How many takes did it require to get your FB profile pic just right? Me? Nah, I’m a one-take kind of guy.
Not really. Quite the opposite. Actually, I believe the technical term might be what the intellectual elite like to call “Obsessive.” But what do they know?
I took a lot of shots of myself on Day 60 of this experiment. But I didn’t feel like posting about Day 60. At the time, I wasn’t sure why. Then, in chatting with my close friend about it, I off-handedly said, “I’m not sure making this a series and posting on my progress every 30 days with a picture is a good idea. I mean, I feel like I have to show this constant improvement, and what if I get fat and slobby in the next couple months? I’ll look like a failed experiment!” To which they replied, “You know you have a little vain streak, right?” …What?! I’ve never thought of myself as vain. I’m not into primping, I’m outdoorsy, all that. Vain is for Dallas girls and metrosexuals. (Sorry, to my metrosexual friends, for the assocation.)
But I got to thinking, and after discussing, what came out was that it’s more about being overly self-conscious. And my friend called attention to the fact that I often seek validation about my appearance. I realized that, while maybe not stereotypically vain, I have been quite self-conscious about my appearance, especially in the past year.
I realized that this pattern gained speed shortly before my divorce. Subconsciously, I felt that making myself more attractive would solve the problems. Like I could literally attract her back to me. Sure, prior to that, I had really been trying to take care of my health, to get more physically fit. But this was different. A message had been implanted in me that if only I could be the most attractive possible, that would negate the distance between us. If only I could make myself irresistible, then good things would happen. And apparently this thinking became a pattern.
“Multiply that feeling times 100,” said my friend, “That’s what a lot of women feel every day, ‘If I’m not physically attractive, then I’m not worthy….’” I know guys sometimes feel this way too, of course, and self-image crises are on the rise for males, but this issue has been around for ages for women. I just got a little taste, and I am thankful for my friend for helping bring it to light.
So anyway, this post is almost a week late. My 60 days after officially starting this was the 15th. I’ve just been stalling. And for now, this series is in fact one good way of me marking my time in my experiment, as every experiment worth its salt must have a time-based record of results. Although my physical appearance is the tiniest marker of the effects of all this, it’s just like a snapshot, a reference, to remind me of this journey.
But the truth is, I didn’t want to set up a series that would require me to take a picture of myself every month. Not because I don’t like taking pictures of myself, of course. But because I’m currently in relatively good physical appearance from surfing nearly every day, I think it can only get worse from here.
That was my thinking until just the other day. It was raining. I went for a bike ride in the rain and got wet and muddy. I sloshed around barefoot in the yard. I felt free. I felt the most connected to nature that I’ve ever felt. I felt like myself! I thought, “Now THIS is who I really am!” And I felt like shouting “Fuck You!” to that lie that says that I have to look a certain way before I can find true contentment. “Fuck you!” to having to please other people to feel valuable to this world. And I wanted to capture that feeling.
So I grabbed my camera and tripod and started to re-take my 60-Day mugshot to reflect this feeling. I was all wet and a little muddy and feral (although it doesn’t really come across in the pic). Actually, I don’t really look that much different than 30 days prior. My beard is fuller; my hair is longer. And maybe my pants are tiny bit looser. That’s a bout it. But I was feeling this boldness to fly in the face of expectations, not just physical, but all across the board. “I’m going to show that this is who I am, and if you don’t like, too bad!” …And then I kept taking pictures to get just the right look.
I took more than a dozen shots, and half of those were of me flipping the bird. …Trying to flip it just right, of course: “Look tough, but not like ass-hole tough,” I thought to myself. Or, “Just do a crazy cocky one…” Or “Nah, just be confident…yeah…look confident, that’s it.”
So yeah, I sort of defeated the purpose. When my aim was to look like I didn’t care, I ended up getting obsessive about looking like I didn’t care. So I really cared, a lot. But hey, maybe it’s just my perfectionist-creative coming out, and that’s okay. Everybody takes multiple shots to get just that right angle, right? (Especially we photographers and editors.) At least now I realize this tendency toward irrational self-consciousness, try to stay aware of it, and take it easy on myself.
But in the end, it was this sort of “Blue Steel” looking Fuck You that made the cut. (Click the link if you don’t know what Blue Steel is.) With my friend’s help, and in laughing with her about it, I was able to gain more objective insight about myself. And just the fact that I am out here in the jungle, away from the distractions of “civilized” society, with too much alone-time to not analyze myself – to really sit with and evaluate my insecurities – I saw more clearly the lie that says I have to look a certain way to prove (to myself) that I am happy.
…And here I was thinking that this experiment was just about getting out of the typical American lifestyle to be a little more true to myself. It’s amazing what happens when we start living a little more truthfully, even one step at a time. When we cast aside one lie, millions of others follow.