Sofya Zhuk

WORDS OF CAUTION: International media attention is generally a plus for any model, but Sofya Zhuk has found herself in the headlines for an unexpected reason.

An Instagram post of her standing with her back to the camera, wearing only a pair of jeans with her breasts covered mysteriously resurfaced a few days ago, she said in an interview Tuesday. After posting the image in September, she said she received so many “aggressive“ messages that she deleted it.

People criticized her for posing topless and naked, calling her a nobody who was just trying to get attention, Zhuk said. She deleted the post after getting about 100 negative comments, “DM messages, requests and threats like if-you-keep-doing-that-I-know-where-you-live and stuff like that. It was really bad,” she told WWD.

In recent days the image of the Elite model was reposted on Twitter, Facebook and different sites, though she said she is uncertain why. Originally shot for her portfolio a few years ago, the 20-year-old said she considered the image “sensitive and soft,” and she doesn’t understand why people reacted so badly “especially since it was a professional shoot.”

Originally from Russia, Zhuk was a junior Wimbledon champion in 2015. She said she recently was asked about the photo during an interview with the Russian media outlet Sport Express and explained why she took the photo down. “I have no idea how it got to The Daily Mail, how it got to my Instagram or how it recirculated. But right now I’ve gotten about 200 messages from people saying [things like], ‘Don’t pay attention to this. You’re gorgeous. You shouldn’t let people tell you what to wear or what to post,’” Zhuk said. “Technically, right now I’m only getting positive messages. I haven’t gotten one negative message.”

Cyberbullying is something that she experienced in the world of competitive sports from a very young age. Her girls’ singles victory at Wimbledon happened at the age of 15. While still competing, Zhuk received such comments as, “’I know where you live. I’m going to come and kill you.’ ‘I know where your mom lives,'” she said. “It was insane. Some messages I had to report.“

A former brand ambassador for Nike and Philipp Plein during her tennis years, Zhuk said people used to post such remarks as, “’Oh, you’re done with sports. You’re nothing. You’re distracted,’” she said. “People see me as living a certain lifestyle that they want me to live. If I don’t do it the way that they like, they straightaway go crazy. They don’t understand that it’s so not right.”

She retired from tennis 18 months ago, took a breather and now models full time. “Sports is really hard mentally. When you stop, you really need a break before you’re able to do anything else,” Zhuk said.

Now that Elite Model Management has reopened after the pandemic shutdown, she is “ready and excited” to do photo shoots with athletic, designer and all types of brands. More than anything Zhuk said she wishes that girls who post bikini or lingerie pictures will not get any social media hate for doing so.

“Girls are not immune to that. I wish people would learn how to not attack each other on social media, and not to bring each other down — especially girls and young girls. They don’t deserve that,” Zhuk said. “Especially when they’re modeling and they share something to be supported and instead of that, they literally get slammed with hate. That’s not fair at all.”

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