How Flo from Progressive helped AT&T's Lily deal with online sexual harassment

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Lily actress Milana Vayntrub said talking with Flo star Stephanie Courtney made her feel "like there were people on my team" amid a wave of toxic trolls.

Spokeswomen have each other's backs.

When Milana Vayntrub, the actress behind AT&T's popular commercial character Lily, began facing severe online sexual harassment, Flo from Progressive stepped in to help. Vayntrub revealed in an interview with The New York Times that fellow commercial star Stephanie Courtney, who has played insurance agent Flo for over 15 years, called her to support her through a sudden rise in negative trolling.

Vayntrub originally auditioned for the role of Lily when she was 26. "I dressed like I imagined a friendly girl would dress," Vayntrub told the outlet a decade later. She got the part and played Lily, a friendly and helpful AT&T store employee, for about three years until the commercial campaign ended in 2017. However, when the pandemic struck in 2020, she pitched her return as Lily in new national commercials set in her home, where she did her own hair and makeup and directed the spots herself.

<p>Progressive/ Youtube; ATT/ Youtube</p>

Progressive/ Youtube; ATT/ Youtube

But while her original run as Lily received mostly neutral to positive response, Vayntrub noticed an abrupt change when her commercials returned. According to the NYT, "in the summer of 2020, seemingly overnight, one small but vocal corner of the internet fixed its gaze upon Vayntrub and began referring to her by a new name: Mommy Milkers, a reference to her breasts. En masse, people spammed the comment sections of AT&T’s social-media posts with lewd declarations and emojis of glasses of milk... Her personal photos were widely redistributed among strangers. Spammy websites promised access to pornographic videos of her that did not exist."

"Our real world was so small that the internet felt like everything," Vayntrub said.

At the time, AT&T released a statement condemning the harassment, and the @ATT account replied to offensive comments on social media, "We don’t condone sexual harassment of employees in the workplace or on our social channels." The company also put Vayntrub in touch with a team from Instagram to discuss other potential ways to deal with the harassment. But what really helped Vayntrub feel supported was when Courtney, the face behind another national brand character, reached out to her on the phone while it was all happening.

According to the outlet, "Courtney was empathetic; Vayntrub had been chosen, essentially at random, to receive a blitzkrieg of violent and sexual taunts from legions of strangers for doing a job essentially identical to her own. Vayntrub recalled that Courtney was a good listener." Talking with Courntey made Vayntrub feel "like there were people on my team," she said.

Eventually, Vayntrub appealed to the trolls on Instagram, asking them to stop, but was not happy to see articles covering the issue saying she was "pleading" and making her seem like a victim, "like I was begging a lover to not walk out on me into the pouring rain," she said.

Ultimately, Vayntrub said the benefits she gets from being nationally recognized as the AT&T character "one hundred percent" still outweigh the negatives.

Sign up for Entertainment Weekly's free daily newsletter to get breaking TV news, exclusive first looks, recaps, reviews, interviews with your favorite stars, and more.

Related content:

Read the original article on Entertainment Weekly.