Say hi, Rufus!
There’s something unavoidably surreal about being recognized in public as this… blogger. Recent conversations elsewhere have pointed out how the anonymity of the internet promotes bad behavior and plain old stupidity, but it also has effects that are less obviously negative. Even when one is using one’s real name, there’s no way to truly visualize the faces of the people reading. When last I checked, this site gets a couple thousand unique visitors a day: I can’t even begin to imagine what a thousand people might look like. This makes it easy for me to write out and share fairly personal stories without feeling too exposed. What is a couple thousand people, a couple thousand brains reading? I have no idea. I can’t get my head round it.
The surreal comes in when I am met in public, face-to-face, with someone who reads these words. Because in that moment I realize this person knows an awful lot about me, and I know nothing about them. It’s an odd sensation, not unpleasant, not frightening, just an illuminated reality: all those IP addresses have living people behind them! People who recognize me. People who want to say hi.
More and more lately I’ve found myself being approached by strangers who simply want to tell me how much they like what I write here. I’ve worked hard over the past six months or so to become better at real-life recognition. I am annoyingly reluctant to accept compliments, and I’m striving to improve that. Now when a stranger compliments me, I force myself to shut my mouth, to listen without being dismissive, and to say: thank you. The exchange may still be awkward — and believe me, loves, if you feel awkward and weird approaching me, know that I feel awkward and weird too — but it’s an awkward I can better live with, and an awkward that doesn’t involve me compulsively swatting down compliments in a dismissive panic that diminishes us both by suggesting your opinion is irrelevant and my work here is valueless. I TRY NOT TO DO THIS ANYMORE. The best interactions are the easygoing ones. The easygoing ones are the ones in which folks approach, confirm that I am who they think I am, and tell me they read and/or enjoy the things I write here. Then we may or may not exchange some pleasantries before parting ways. Don’t be surprised if I am slightly graceless or inelegant at accepting praise; don’t think you’ve done something wrong if I stumble through the conversation. It’s not you: it’s me.
But it’s important to say hi, nevertheless.
This weekend, I was sitting in the stands at roller derby with my husband when a woman introduced herself as a reader and we had a brief (and slightly nervous on my part) chat. Last night, I received a comment here from someone who had spotted me at LAX prior to my flight back to Boston on Thursday (oh, I have considered recapping my Los Angeles trip here, but am not sure if it’s too far afield, topically-speaking) but who chose to not approach. Now, it’s true that I’m not at my best in an airport — as discussed extensively elsewhere, I am not fond of flying for a few reasons, so I am likely to be less than chirpy and outgoing in these circumstances. But having mulled it over this morning, I think I’d always prefer that folks do approach rather than not, for one simple reason: it makes us visible.
Meeting and talking — however superficially — in three dimensions about the body politics this blog purports to discuss generates a tangible visibility that many of us don’t get to experience very often. I’d wager very few of y’all have scores of friends with whom you can candidly and critically talk about the cultural impact of body standards and expectations. Some of you do! And that’s fantastic. But many don’t. So taking an opportunity — even if it’s strange and hilarious — to connect with me off-blog has an impact, on both of us and on the environment in which said meeting takes place. It can be subtle, for sure, but simply by making an approach you’re being demonstrably critical. And being critical is good for you — for your self-esteem and for your brain.
Thursday of my Los Angeles trip was spent with Joy Nash, who is herself eminently recognizeable as the brains (and beauty) behind the Fat Rant videos, and among the many subjects we discussed, we had a great conversation about being identified in public. LA is supposed to be fat-person-free, more or less, but I tend to see fat people everywhere, probably because I’ve developed a habit of actively looking for them, whereas fat folks are mostly invisible to people who don’t make efforts to see them. We talked about the charge you get when you see a fat girl in a dress, or otherwise presenting herself in a way that draws attention — it’s like recognizing kin, and in a thinner city like LA, these moments of recognition are especially precious, as it’s so easy to feel alone. In my goth days I cultivated the ability to spot goths (or other music-based subculturals) even out of goth attire based on tiny signals: slightly unusual makeup, specific shoes, other accessories — even the way they’d walk, or move their hands. I’ve often wished fats shared this type of circumstance-spanning nonverbal language, so that we could spot one another in cities across the country, in the most random and unexpected situations. Not even to talk, necessarily, but to share a silent camaraderie, to know we are understood.
So in all honesty: when you see me and approach and introduce yourself, I am usually just as happy to meet you as you are to meet me. Because you are amazing. Really. If your purpose is to tell me that you think I’m amazing, I’m humbled and happy that you think so. I’m moreso of both if things I’ve written or done have meant something to you, or changed your thinking around, or helped you overcome some of the self-hating garbage we are all forced to carry around inside our heads. But you are the one who made the connection, who set out to introduce yourself, who took a chance: you are the amazing one. What I do — or attempt to do — is provide you with an instrument, or a channel, through which you can investigate these ideas and then begin to change, to shed a lifetime of cultural pressure, to criticize a world that limits bodies to narrow standards or acceptability, to know yourself. What you have done is just as hard as what I have done, and so you deserve just as much credit, and I wish I could tell every person whom I meet this without it sounding ridiculous and sentimental and cloying. But seriously: you have done something amazing. It’s not me. It’s you.
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