Robbie Tripp is a hugger. When I met him in Manhattan on Tuesday afternoon, I stuck out my hand for a shake and Tripp, clad in a Hawaiian shirt, opened both arms. We hugged. Of all the experiences I’ve had at City Bakery in Flatiron — crying, hiding from a colleague while on an early-morning coffee date, drinking my bodyweight in hot chocolate — this one was new. I was hugging Curvy Wife Guy.
If you know Robbie Tripp — blogger, self-described creative entrepreneur, soon-to-be rapper — you know him by his internet moniker: “Curvy Wife Guy.” It’s a nickname he picked up after a picture he posted on Instagram in 2017 went viral. In the caption to a photo of Tripp and his wife, Sarah, embracing in swimsuits on the beach, he told the world a tragic tale. Tripp had been teased in his younger years for preferring “girls on the thicker side, ones who were shorter and curvier, girls that the average (basic) bro might refer to as ‘chubby’ or even ‘fat.’” The post was, if you ignore the fraught language, an ode to Sarah. “A real woman is not a porn star or a bikini mannequin or a movie character,” he concluded. (Sarah, for the record, may be “curvy,” but she is also objectively, conventionally hot.)
Like a lot of people on the internet, I took notice of Tripp’s, ah, effusive celebration of his wife’s body, and like a lot of other bloggers, I wrote a short post about it. I dutifully followed both the Tripps on Instagram and then, other than checking in periodically, didn’t really think much about them — until April, when the couple posted pregnancy announcements on their respective accounts. Sarah’s has already escaped my memory, mostly because it contained the sorts of excited, but conventional, things one expects in such a post. Her husband’s is seared into my brain. Tripp called his wife a “sacred vessel carrying my seed” and a “pure fertile goddess” with a “five-star womb.” Knowing readers would want to hear about the new adventures of a viral sensation, I wrote a short blog post about the caption, calling it “expectedly cringey.” The Tripps promptly blocked me on Instagram.
A bit dramatic, but not totally a surprise. For an internet culture writer, which I am, this is business as usual. A person achieves some level of success, fame, or other notoriety on the social platforms that govern much of American culture. I write about that person, and what they’ve done to earn the praise or enmity — really, the attention — of the public. And that person, depending on how they feel about my coverage, either remains in contact or, well, doesn’t. What is fairly rare is hearing from the subjects of those blog posts after they’ve been written, which is why I thought I was hallucinating late Sunday night when a DM from Tripp appeared in my Instagram in-box asking to meet up during his visit to New York last week. I especially thought I was hallucinating because, when I woke up Monday morning, the message was gone. I hadn’t screenshotted it.
As it turns out, Tripp simply got nervous about how I might interpret a “late-night DM.” “I didn’t know what you were going to do, and I figured an email was a little bit more professional,” he told me as we settled in for an hourlong conversation. After the deleted DM, he’d emailed me and a number of other internet culture writers, asking if they wanted to get coffee. In the email, he wrote that he thought if we met face-to-face, I’d realize I don’t “hate” him — his word, not mine — or have him figured out quite so well as I think I do. The subject line was “Opportunity of a Lifetime!!!!!!!!!”
I’m not sure it was really the opportunity of a lifetime, but as I later told Tripp, I felt saying “yes” was the right thing to do, given I’d written about him repeatedly. Interpreting Instagram posts is fine, but there’s no substitute for meeting your subject in person. Plus I’d be lying if I did not say I wasn’t a little curious. This Instagram version of himself had to be an act, right? Maybe he was actually someone I’d get along with? Was it possible that meeting Robbie Tripp in person would lead to a lifelong friendship?
He told me I was the only writer to take him up on the offer — “I was almost kind of like Kevin in Home Alone. I was like, ‘I’m not afraid anymore.’ You know what I mean?” — and said I could ask him anything I want. I asked him why he blocked me on Instagram. “I don’t ever do things with the intent of people writing about it, commenting on it,” Tripp says. “Just by the way that I am and the way that I say things, it always just ends up happening.” He told me my headline and tweets about his pregnancy announcement had hurt his feelings.
When Tripp’s Instagram post went viral in 2017, he had about 20,000 followers. Now he has 115,000. (Sarah has 460,000.) They’re influencers, which means their business is attention. The more eyes they can get on their posts, the more they can attract sponsorships or advertising within them. For a single sponsored Instagram post, the couple can charge as much as $20,000, and “that’s just in terms of a single post. If we’re throwing in blog posts, other types of syndicated content into their video content and all that stuff, it [they figure] gets bigger.” One of Tripp’s shticks is “desert money,” a catchphrase cobbled together from the couple’s move to Arizona and his “always be grinding” attitude. Most influencers aren’t as candid about money as Tripp is. “It’s gauche in our industry to talk about money. You play your cards close to your chest because your engagement and your stats and your metrics are kind of like your currency,” Tripp explained to me.
If this all seems to you at odds with his claim that he doesn’t create content with the intention of getting attention, it did to me too. Tripp told me there are parts of his life where he won’t “do anything to lessen the perceived controversy” — he mentioned here his upcoming music video — but that the pregnancy announcement was different. “That’s just me telling, genuinely sharing that moment with my followers.” (I imagine my face looked like Marcia from The Brady Bunch. Sure, Jan.)
Tripp’s insistence that, despite a livelihood that relies on attention, he doesn’t actively seek it out came up several times in our conversation. When I asked Tripp about the criticism he’d faced over his original post, he said that it all rested on the assumption “that I asked for that or I somehow knew that it was going to go viral,” which he says he didn’t. Either way, the couple plans to share their baby on social media when it is born. “There are definitely influencers who say, ‘I’m not going to post my kid, I’m going to put my kid on my Instagram,’” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’re about that.”
I wondered a bit if he’d had another motive for arranging this coffee: His upcoming music video for an as-yet-untitled “curvy girl” anthem, the teasers for which features Sarah and a handful of models in swimsuits. Tripp sports a fruit-patterned shirt. In one behind-the-scenes clip, you can hear a little of the song playing from the gold Tesla Tripp rented for the shoot. “Got stretch marks / Yeah, they’re tigers stripes / Get you the new model / Get you the curvy type,” Tripp raps. “Some say a curvy girl that’s risky / But they ain’t met a curvy girl that’s frisky.” He turns the song off as he begins a lyric about “200 pounds.” “It was never a consideration that I wouldn’t be in it,” Tripp tells me when I ask why he decided to star in the video. “I told Sarah in the beginning, ‘This was going to be empowering. This was going to be fun.’” he said. “I’m an artist. It’s my project.”
“Not many guys are out there promoting this opposite-gender body positivity,” Tripp said. “I’m just here to say there are those of us out there, guys out there, who find curvy women attractive, beautiful, and desirable.” I told him I’d just as soon live in a world where men don’t feel the need to comment on women’s bodies, full stop. He said just because I’m uncomfortable with a man commenting on a woman’s body — like, for example, my body — doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of women out there who agree with him. He apologized profusely for racist and homophobic tweets that had been unearthed in the wake of his sudden viral fame, explaining that the time that he and his wife spent living in San Francisco had helped him grow. He told me his wife’s preferred SoulCycle studio was in the Castro and asked if I knew what that meant. (Tripp disputed this point after publication. He said his remark — “right” — was not a question meant to underscore his point about the Castro.) We’d hit an impasse.
There’s a precedent for how conversations go when internet writers finally meet, in person, the viral subjects they’ve previously lambasted — Valleywag writer Sam Biddle meeting Justine Sacco, the publicist who tweeted “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS,” or Vice’s Eve Peyser, meeting the New York Times’s Bari Weiss. Two ideological opponents see each other face-to-face, talk it out, find common ground, discover that the internet had made them cruel or callous in ways they didn’t expect.
Not for me and Robbie Tripp. There was no catharsis, no new sense of purposefulness or peace. No moment of enlightenment or sense that I’d wasted my life or hurt an innocent man. Because, ultimately, Tripp and I don’t hate each other — I never claimed to hate him, in fact. We need each other. We don’t misunderstand each other. We understand each other all too well.
The strong disagreements I have with Tripp — which, to be clear, I absolutely still hold — are good for business. Good for both of our businesses. Tripp said I’d hurt his feelings, and maybe I had, but I hadn’t really hurt him. The opposite, in fact. His career has benefited from my distaste for his diction in the same way mine has benefited from the clicks I’m guaranteed whenever I write about his latest gambit. If there was a lesson about the way we relate to each on the internet contained in my own viral-subject-viral-author meet-up, it was that: There’s a mutualism to our relationship. Bees and flowers. Those little birds that eat ticks and rhinos. Me and Curvy Wife Guy.
As we parted ways, Tripp told me he’s still unsure if he’ll unblock me. Later, he posted a multi-video Instagram Story directed at all his “haters.” In it, he tells the story of our meeting and informs his fans we had a civil conversation and he’s sure — though, of course, I will write whatever I want to write — he convinced me he’s not the person I thought he was. I, however, did not see this story. A friend, whom he hasn’t blocked, told me about it.
As of publication, the writer of this piece remains blocked by both Curvy Wife Guy and his Curvy Wife.
Update May 13, 10:23 a.m.: The writer of this piece has been unblocked by Curvy Wife Guy, but not by his Curvy Wife.
Update May 13, 11:03 a.m.: The writer of this piece has once again been blocked by Curvy Wife Guy.
Update May 13, 12:32 p.m.: This piece has been updated to include a post-publication comment from Robbie Tripp regarding his comments about the Castro neighborhood in San Francisco.
Update May 14 10:15 a.m.: The writer of this piece has, yet again, been unblocked by Curvy Wife Guy. She remains blocked by his Curvy Wife.
Update May 15 11:15 a.m.: The writer of this piece has been re-blocked by Curvy Wife Guy. This will be the final update on this saga because this writer has better things to do with her time.