Sunday, January 13, 2013

Streakin' through the Internet

I agreed to do a photo shoot today with a photographer friend. His concept for the shoot, as relayed to me in a handful of text messages, is inspired by a costume I put together for the DC Krampuslauf last month, which was basically just a bunch of cool, irreverent people gathering to bar-hop on H Street while wearing horns and other outlandish costumes based on the European legend of the Krampus. My costume was not the most elaborate -- not by far. I mean, there were folks clad head-to-toe in fur and wearing homemade masks (one guy used wishbones from Popeye's fried chicken as vertebrae on his mask's long, hooked nose!) and a dude on stilts. There were people whose costumes incorporated "bad babies," baby dolls representing naughty children whom the Krampus steals and carries away. 

Meanwhile, my "costume" consisted mainly of a pair of horns, worn headwrap-style, that I'd yoinked from a child's costume purchased during my lunch break the day of the event, plus some reeds I'd gathered from the woods across the street from where I live and tied together with string, to represent the Krampus's switch that he uses on bad kids. I mostly attended this batshit event to do something a little different, something a bit subversive and bacchanalian amidst the Norman Rockwell sincerity of the Christmas season (we were a bunch of horn-wearing, bell-clanging revelers going to bars -- the event felt downright pagan, downright heathen).  

...So now you're wondering, "So what? So, this sounds cool and all... but it belongs over on Facebook where your posts are basically press releases. This blog is supposed to be where you deal with deep and serious issues, and report that you have followed through on promises to engage in actions that make you and your life better." 

The thing is -- my photo shoots with this guy whose basement studio I'm going to today always turn into nude ones. As I've mentioned on here before, I am not a person who looks like a model. My face is crooked. I blink in most photos. My body is pear-shaped, my skin isn't great. I'm not even one of those people who are beautiful on the inside and so it shines through in their smile, in their eyes. My smile makes my face look like a chipmunk's, and in most photos I have the vacuous gray dead-eyed stare of a fish. What I do have -- my sole asset, really -- is the willingness to pose nude, and to grant any photographer who ever works with me the absolute freedom to share images of me anyplace he wants.  

Recently a friend mentioned in an e-mail that he liked seeing pictures of me, but that I should probably not post nude photos of myself. He meant well; his sentence was punctuated with a winky-face emoticon. But his comment -- which really only echoes what others have warned me about how "you have to be careful what you post" on the big bad Internet -- struck me as well-meaning yet a bit puritanical. I mean -- why should I "probably not" have such photos of me on the Internet? Why do I "have to be careful" about these things? Why did my sister confront me over the phone on New Year's Day, after having found my nude-photos site by accident (while using someone else's smartphone and thus logged into his Facebook account), saying things like "You're going to get yourself killed" and "If something happens, don't say I didn't warn you" and that the nude images of me were basically porn? (I disagree with her on this last point. Some of them are art, and some of them are portraiture, but none of them are designed to make you want to wank off.) 

Here's what people fear, as far as I can tell, being someone who does not fear these things (except for the last one): 

-Some creepy dude will see the pictures of me and form an obsession and hunt me down and do bad things to me or kill me.

-A potential boss will see the pictures of me and not hire me, or fire me if he or she has already given me a job.

-My boyfriend is secretly ashamed of me but is too nice to say so.

-My friends will feel uncomfortable around me; my female friends will hate me for having publicly shared a link to nude photos that their boyfriends/husbands/crushes can see. 

-Someday I might have kids, and they might be ashamed to have a mom who has naked pictures of herself floating around on the Internet.

Let me tackle these one by one.

-Some creepy dude will see the pictures of me and form an obsession and hunt me down and do bad things to me or kill me. 

...Do I really have to address this one? This could happen whether or not I post pictures of myself on the Internet at all, clothed or naked. Furthermore, I'm not toying with anyone's emotions here; I'm not faux-flirting with lonely guys who pay me money for any type of intimate services and who could form an emotional attachment to me. Creepy people are going to do bad things to other people no matter what. I honestly don't see this objection as valid or even all that in touch with reality.

-A potential boss will see the pictures of me and not hire me, or fire me if he or she has already given me a job.

Yeah, it could happen. But for one thing, all of my truly private things -- nude photos, fiction and non-fiction prose -- are posted pseudonymously. Neither site is all that famous or popular -- the odds of some hirer in the DC-metro area "just so happening" to stumble across either site is incredibly low, unless they somehow figure out the pseudonym I use for everything. Which is a possibility, but so remote that I just don't care. I mean, I'm a writer -- a certain degree of creative zaniness and idiosyncrasy is allowed. I am never going to run for president. Besides, I dislike the notion of shaping my entire life in such a way that I never have to worry if a boss is looking over my shoulder. I don't want to be lying on my deathbed someday saying, "I sure did live a life that was OPSEC-compliant!"

-My boyfriend is secretly ashamed of me but is too nice to say so.

This is something my sister pointedly asked about on the phone during her confrontation -- does my boyfriend know, and how does he feel? I appreciate her concern, but -- yes, he knows. He has been nothing but supportive, laid-back, even proud. He sometimes calls me a "model" in a way that makes me feel sort of glamorous, when in reality I mostly just go put on costumes (and uh, take them off) in a townhouse basement in Fairfax. My boyfriend is a mellow kind of guy, not possessive at all. If he were even a little bit not OK with this -- I wouldn't do it, period, end of story, end of so-called modeling hobby that is not even really all that important to me, more sort of a recent lark.

-My friends will feel uncomfortable around me; my female friends will hate me for having publicly shared a link to nude photos of me that their boyfriends/husbands/crushes can see.

This is a legitimate point. It's actually not one that's ever been brought up to me, but it's something that's crossed my mind. In fact, sometimes when I share the link to my nude-photos site, to let people know there are new pictures on there -- I will tweak my Facebook privacy settings in such a way that my close friends and their husbands or boyfriends don't see the link. I'm sure I've been sloppy and inconsistent with this. (My sister only saw the link because I'd forgotten to include her husband among the batch of family members blocked from seeing it.) But to that I can just say that nudity, and even outright porn, is out there, and your husband or boyfriend is probably aware of this fact. My sharing a link to nude photos of myself is not exactly going to blow his mind and make him go running off to file for divorce or dump you. Odds are I'm not even his type.

Part of me feels OK with sharing these pictures or being in them in the first place because I'm not conventionally attractive. Maybe it'd be one thing if I did look like a Playmate or a Maxim cover girl. I'm all pale and freckly (not some bronzed babe in a bikini), I'm small-chested, I have a long bony nose that is sometimes downright Ichabod Crane in some photos. Granted, there are plenty of guys who like all of these attributes -- but believe me, I have tons of qualities that make me not exactly your boyfriend's dream girl. 

Maybe I should go ahead and include a print disclaimer on my nude-photos site just to drive that point home: "Dear any guy looking at these photos (or significant others thereof): Your girlfriend or wife is better for you than I could ever be. She can undoubtedly cook better than I do -- if she cooks at all, she's already ahead of me -- and probably has a better or cooler job than I do -- if she works at all, she's probably ahead of me. I am freakishly shy in most social situations. I have to go to Starbucks every morning, and I don't even order something cool -- I drink a goddamn mocha frappuccino every day, yes even in winter and shut up. I drive a ten-year-old Honda Accord. I have no savings. I have no boobs. There are tons of little and big reasons why, believe me, I am probably not your dream girl." 

Would that make it better? Does it make it any better, when I counter any remotely "sexy" photos of me with self-deprecation? And is this really at the heart of it all -- that a sexy or sexual woman is somehow dangerous, somehow upsets the equilibrium, is someone to be reproached and told to cover up? Or that sex in general is dangerous for that reason? 

-Someday I might have kids and they might be ashamed to have a mom who has naked pictures of herself floating around on the Internet.

Ouch, this one gets to me. Because I do hope to have a family someday, whether I beget youngin's out of my own body or adopt them. I guess I'm right on track with the rest of contemporary culture in believing that parenthood is a sacred duty. I have always thought that I would sacrifice anything for a kid of mine. Even in little dumb ways. For example, I know already that pregnant ladies shouldn't drink caffeine or dye their hair, and I just told you that I go to Starbucks every day, plus I'm increasingly going gray, but whatever -- I would moan my way through withdrawal headaches and let myself get all witchy-looking (I'd play it off all anti-makeup feminist-grande-dame eminence grise) if it meant that my baby would be healthy. I'd be taking folic acid out the yin-yang, drinking orange juice like it's going out of style. And so on.

But seriously, I will full-on admit that this objection bothers me. Because you never know what kind of kid you're going to have -- one who would be cool with a mom who posed nude in her twenties and thirties and wrote short stories that contain sex scenes and bad words... or one who would not be cool with that at all. I have no idea how I would feel about that -- my mom was pretty much a nun before she got married, and has been close to one afterward.  

I have no satisfactory reply to this point. All I can think of to say is that I am not a parent right now, and that if I am ever lucky enough to become one -- my behavior would change. The nude "sexy" photos, the drinking and clubbing, all of it would probably be dialed way back if not stopped completely. Probably not the writing, though. As long as I continue to carry on my writing life in as protective and respectful a manner as possible (e.g. not flaunting my more out-there and NSFW fare in the faces of my conservative family members and would-be bosses, using my pseudonym), I think it's probably OK. It might even do a child a disservice if a parent stopped doing his or her favorite thing in the world to do -- the thing that makes her feel most alive and of some value to humanity. I think a child would probably prefer to have a parent who has a soul. 


  1. I think there is a saying that goes something like this: You are more likely to regret the things you did not do than the ones you were brave enough to try.

    I fully support living the life you want to; the one you are living right now. Your exploration of new things, places, and adventures is inspiring. It makes me want to get my lazy ass of the couch, go outside, and LIVE damn it! Don't ever stop being that person. The naysayers just don't get you. And that's okay. They don't have to understand to give you the space you need to just be yourself. I sincerely hope that they give you that space. And soon.

  2. Excellent essay with excellent points. You analyze something I think most people dismiss as uncomfortable, but without examining their reasons, and yours are excellently thought out. Although I DO think being naked makes one more of a target for weirdos than not, I agree the chances are slim and definitely not worth changing for (mostly because, if you change, then the jerks win).

    About the kids, my guess is they wouldn't find out until they were old enough to appreciate that it was cool.

    Thanks again for being awesome and continually inspiring! -cs