The Floor Is Yours

This Artist Is Creating A Safe Space For Sexual Assault Survivors On TikTok

Welcome to The Floor Is Yours, where we spotlight the creators behind the meaningful content on your FYP — because it’s not just about who they are, but the message in what they’re creating.   
For Ali Waller, TikTok isn’t just a space for memes and viral trends. It’s a way for her to help others heal
Waller, a 23-year-old artist based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, travels across the country to plaster body casts of sexual assault survivors. With more than 140,000 followers and 6.4 million likes, chances are you may have already seen her TikToks on your FYP. But she was sending a message long before her TikTok account took off. Making body casts is Waller’s full-time job. 
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Waller was originally a painter but began molding casts in 2020 after watching the Netflix documentary Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich, which interviews survivors of Epstein’s abuse. Part of the inspiration for casting bodies also came from spending time in the Catholic Church, which Waller recognizes is ironic since her project is sexually liberating and the Church is, as she puts it, “not that at all.” Waller originally had a goal of 200 casts, but by the time she started posting her process on TikTok a year later, she had surpassed that number by over 100. To date, Waller has completed over 1,000 casts.
To be mindful of her own healing journey, Waller originally didn’t cast cisgender men, but she later expanded the scope of her project to include all genders to reflect the reality that sexual assault affects everyone regardless of their gender identity. In October 2021, she posted her first TikTok featuring the cast of a cis man — who was, in fact, her older brother Chase — and the video went viral. Today, the video has more than 13 million views. “My first thought was, honestly, of course it's me casting a man,” she laughs while on a recent Zoom call with Refinery29. 
@refinery29 Welcome to #thefloorisyours, where we spotlight the creators behind the meaningful content on your fyp @alicewaller0 #plastercast #sasurvivor ♬ Emotional and epic film based Epic Orchestra - Tansa
Waller says that survivors find the casting beneficial to their healing because to be heard and believed gives them back some of their autonomy and power. Waller’s close friends, who were the first to be cast, helped her figure out the best way to honor and respect the bodies and experiences of every survivor that comes into her studio. Waller starts each casting session by asking, “What is your relationship with your body?” to give survivors the opportunity to take control of the intimate interaction. She ends each session by saying, “You are believed, received, and respected. Leave whatever you need in the cast as I take it off.” Waller is also adamant about not exploiting the survivors and their experiences. She only posts videos of casts of people who have signed consent forms and protects their identities by not showing their faces or other identifiable features, unless they give explicit permission. Survivors who are interested in being cast by Waller can sign up through a link in her Instagram bio. 
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For Waller, the project is also personal. Her own abuse started when she was a minor, she says, and creating this community on TikTok has shown and reminded her just how many young people are also survivors of abuse. Posting online has helped Waller’s journey of moving forward from her own assault. “​​I have grown so comfortable sharing my experience with assault through my artwork,” she says. “Sharing has been almost like a level to step up to, this outward expression of what I have been feeling so deeply has to happen in order for me to heal. For some people, that's a much more private practice.”
Scrolling through Waller’s page is more than just perusing art. It’s a brutally honest and intimate peek into the veracity of surviving abuse. You will see clips from art installations around the United States and excerpts of her reading from The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk, MD. She has also expanded her project by plastering other body parts, such as mouths and hands, to signify the multiple layers of abuse. 
Waller’s videos don’t shy away from rage, freedom, disbelief, or joy; they show us all sides of grief and healing. And what is so special about Waller’s TikTok is the genuine connection she has made with a community that is incredibly underserved and the way she has taken the offline and physical experience of being cast as part of her art project and translated it, respectfully and authentically, online. 
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But it has also been tough to facilitate important conversations about sexual assault and create a safe space for survivors on a social platform where anyone can upload a quick take,  and 15 seconds can feel like a lifetime. Waller knows this firsthand, which is why she had to take a break from interacting on TikTok for a few weeks during last spring. “I was getting so many messages and [my TikTok page] was something so new to the intention of the project, and I felt like it took away from the intimacy of it all,” she says. “It's not a project that I feel is meant for everyone to be able to comment on.” When Waller decided to jump back on the platform later in spring 2021, she made a few crucial changes to her process. “I filter my comments, but I do still read through them, and I rarely have any that are gaslighting survivors that are rude or mean. [My page] has found the right people.” 
Waller is proud of the community she’s built and credits her platform as the reason she’s been able to lead a bi-weekly virtual support group for survivors via Zoom. “Almost everyone has found this through social media, and I would have never met them otherwise. They've shared their stories. They're the only ones in this project who have heard my full story.” Waller sees the opportunity to grow her project to further advocate for survivors, whether it’s getting certified as a mental health professional to provide clinical support for survivors, learning group mediation, participating in more art installations, or traveling to give survivors all over the world the opportunity to be cast and heard by her. 
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This is just the beginning for Waller — whose pandemic project has turned into a lifelong journey — and the community of survivors and listeners that have found her.  “I think all the time about being 90 and how many casts I'll be at by then,” she smiles. “Like a million casts, and how much wisdom I would have soaked up and have already soaked up.” 
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

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