The risk explained
When watching people’s behaviors, if someone acts guilty about something they’re doing, the observer assumes the behavior is bad. They react accordingly.
If you’re seeing a person going into a cookie jar that they know they’re not supposed to touch, and they’re acting all funny about it, it sends the signal that they’re doing something wrong and people react accordingly. However, if the person acts like it’s the most natural thing in the world to do, no one seems to care that they’re getting themselves a cookie. Others may even follow suit afterward.
Armed with this understanding, I knew I had to tackle my self-consciousness about what I thought was sexy and how to interact with people I thought were sexy. Especially when giving compliments. Even more so when a lady asks you what you like to see, what you find attractive, what is appealing, and if you’re willing to get physical with said lady.
In order to do this, I had to first start with myself. I had always assumed I was either average looking or horrible looking (not going to self-therapy myself here). If I didn’t love myself, I had a pour foundation by which to gauge my interactions with others. Meaning, because I had a very negative view of myself, I was more prone to interpret people’s reaction about me negatively.
What drove me to address this conflict was this… if I was to marry anyone and be comfortable with them, they had to know me… as a whole person. Few people understood or knew why I did what I did. They just saw an ambitious academic with awkward social skills. I thought I was doing them a favor by keeping them far from me. Yet, in reality, I was just hurting myself. Yes… this skill of keeping ladies at arms reach did spill over into keeping everyone at arms reach. Very socially isolating.
Learning to be kind to myself was a long arduous process. Lots of journaling and destroying the journals so no one could ever find out what I was thinking. Lots of asking “veiled” questions to uncover what others thought without showing what I was thinking. Lots of creating elaborate narratives to entertain that sounded very personal without being personal. (I had no idea how transparent or opaque I was in those days)
All my coping strategies had to be undone. I had to learn to be authentic. Which, to this day, feels uncomfortably vulnerable. I had to accept myself and learn to project myself confidently.
I had to take risks.
One day, a little after my teen years, a woman I wanted to photograph presented me a serious challenge. She wanted me to photograph her in a way no other had done. Taking a look at her figure, I knew that nearly all the stereotypic sexy poses had been done before. She was very beautiful. All the angles a guy would want had been covered.
The only thing left were the “taboo” areas that proper gentlemen did not ask of a lady. She was not going to do any nudes… nor would I ever dare ask. She was not doing any bikinis. She was tired of those questions. She also said her legs had gotten a degree of attention that was too much for her taste and her hair had been featured in a magazine once. I assumed her nails had as well.
Not one to let a good challenge go to waste, I failed to edit my speech and blurted out “your shoes”. I was so mortified I prayed for death. My artsy side had just spilled out in a most awkward of blatant fashion into my ultra conservative world. I nearly cried in that moment out of sheer fear and panic.
To my surprise, her eyes lit up and she said “I love it, no one has ever done that before”. Not to show my lack of understanding or confidence, I asked “when”. She said “now”.
As if not petrified enough, I was in a pretty busy public setting… a church reception area… with a lot of eyes watching. Making up my mind I was doomed for hell, I went for it. I knew, emotionally speaking, my life was over.
The shoot went well. Nothing evil happened. The earth didn’t swallow me up. Lightning didn’t strike. The woman thought the shoot was so much fun and remarked that I made her completely at ease by treating this as a professional shoot (the way I do all my photo sessions). I got her number and email and sent her the photos. A friendship took off that otherwise would not have. (I had tried before and failed to get her attention).
Yes, others saw. Others commented. No one condemned me. In fact, several asked to model for me. I got a ton of practice and got a lot of photos done. I even got clients who needed a wedding photographer.
My ‘weakness’ was not so weird after all. Sure, I had one or two narrow and closed minded folks remind me that I was humiliating my family’s name by pursuing an artsy career instead of an intellectually proper and noble one. Their wording was not lost on my word-smith prone mind. They were putting down the photography career, not the style of photography, not the interest in any genre of photography. They were comparing being a photographer to being a doctor or lawyer.
I felt extremely lucky that day for avoiding social catastrophe and epic humiliating failure. I needed to understand this unexpected positive outcome. My thoughts from adolescence were being tested and my early adulthood reality was shaping out to be very different than expected. Not to mention, my social circles and influences had changed greatly from my teen years. (I was still in the same conservative and artsy types of circles… but different geography and different social cues/signals)