LYRIC O’ THE DAY:
You walk in clouds of glitter and the sun reflects your eyes. And every time the wind blows I can smell you in the sky.
--Supernova, Liz Phair
I have friends who are exhibitionists. They think nothing of wearing a barely sub-muff miniskirt and midriff top to the local Piggly Wiggly to pick up Twin Bings and tampons. They’ll shoot the elderly cashier a wink as the mother in the lane behind them covers her children’s eyes in disgust.
I admire their confidence; I envy that ability to be comfortable in your own skin. To expose yourself without guilt. Even if it pushes the boundaries of tacky.
Not everyone is so willing to expose themselves. A good chunk of the success of the internet is that it offers a way for the painfully shy and socially awkward to become outrageous with just a few keystrokes. To create a persona that can be subdued and introspective on some days, the life of the party on others. We feel safe hidden behind an avatar or a clever screen name--just another fish in the deep sea of HTML.
Therefore, I was horrifyingly intrigued when I read about the latest scandal involving social media and the--ahem--overexposure of a certain representative with a strangely accurate name. I wanted to understand the motivation to risk destroying your life (and the lives of your family) in the name of trivial exhibitionism.
What makes someone want to be public with their privates? And can anything be extrapolated from Mr. Weiner’s predicament?
First lesson is that flirtation apparently has changed in the 21st century, and not necessarily for the better. Call me old fashioned, but when I played the wooing game it involved a lot more creative banter, as well as flowers and chocolates. Occasionally a nice haiku.
Lest I sound prudish, I don’t have anything against purely lustful connection. Years of working in health care have made me unshockable when it comes to what people do behind closed doors. Whatever floats your boat is what I say--just be responsible and don’t hurt anyone. Oh, and please don’t put my name on a kink website as a physician who’s understanding about the lifestyle, even if you do mean it as a compliment. Very awkward to explain to mom why when she Googles you, there’s a link to a BDSM forum. She hasn’t looked at me the same since.
Sorry, went tangential there. Back to Weinergate.
Although previous gentleman callers have given me a variety of things in the name of love, including a vegetable steamer and an Oak Ridge Boys tshirt, I can’t say I ever received a penis pic. In fact, what the hell am I supposed to do with that? At least the steamer was functional. Other than creating erotic origami or curiously aerodynamic paper airplanes, it’s a gift pretty much guaranteed to end up in the trash. I think in every circumstance, if you want to open a dialog with someone, try talking with your other head first. Don’t just be a dick--and that applies to both sexes.
Second lesson is that nudity isn't the issue, how it's presented is. Nudity can be artistic and emotionally provoking. When shared between consenting adults, it can be incredibly erotic. But when it’s uninvited--and potentially malicious? That’s called porn spam and it’s disrespectful. If you think you may need to apologize about it later, maybe think twice before hitting send.
Then again, perhaps if said pic was photoshopped into a background of daisies or shot through a sepia filter, I would have had a different reaction. But at the end of the day, I’ve seen it before and once the shock is over, it’s just a body part and the whole sentiment is sort of crude. I miss the creativity of being Rickrolled.
If John Hughes had made a movie about this, he would have explored the deeper meaning behind the phenomenon. A cast of saucy young actors would bond by discovering the inner piece of personality revealed by exposing yourself to strangers.
And that’s when the third lesson dawned on me. Am I any different from the person who actually exposes themselves in social media, other than in potential for litigation?
Is exposing yourself the same, whether it’s literally or figuratively?
Basically, writing may be my version of the penis twitpic. A “here it is, please admire, and hopefully this won’t bite me in the ass although it very well may” shout out to the world.
It’s all about the exposure--the willing vulnerability of putting your naked work out there and waiting for the reaction. There’s parts of me in everything I write; at times it feels as if my creations are appendages. Writing is my catharsis, the way I work through life. And sometimes the thought of putting a part of you out there to face the world is an exciting, yet scary, proposition. Because people can be outrageously supportive . . . or they can tell you that you need a boob job and a trip to the gym.
Exposing yourself takes guts. It takes the willingness to show your vulnerabilities and work to improve them. It ultimately makes you stronger, teaches you to stand up for what you believe in, but hopefully you won’t end up on CNBC in the process.
I’m not condoning using social media to harass people with your junk, so to speak. There's really no defense or deeper meaning to be found in hurting another human by your actions. My lengthy point is to take the chance to put yourself out there, but do it in a way that isn’t unkind or malicious. And to remember that sometimes those who expose the most are the ones who are the least sure of themselves.
What have you learned about yourself through exposure?