I am a big fan of photography books. Especially those over-sized, glossy paged, portrait type coffee table books that weigh a ton and where the photographer somehow projects both the outside and the inside of the subject. And i have many of them. Too many, probably. But one of my favorites is a gathering of photos by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders. A book of diptychs. On the left side of the page, a well known porn star in their usual street clothes. On the right, in the same pose, the same porn star undressed and made up for filming. TG-S is an amazing photographer. He captures the thoughts and emotions going on behind the eyes. And in the case of this particular book, in nearly every single spread, he captures something that makes disturbing sense. With maybe two exceptions, every subject is visibly more comfortable in the naked photos.
When i first bought the book, the startling reversal of the usual level of comfort, clothed and not, took me a second to wrap my head around. Even knowing that these people make their living naked, it seemed invasive to stare at their bare selves. But it seemed even more intrusive to stare at their obvious discomfort when captured in clothing. The looks on their faces resembling cats forced to wear Halloween costumes. The awkwardness and antsiness is palpable. And to those of us who make a living with clothes on, it seems strange, and even a little sad.
Why do i bring this up today?
I was side-swiped by a reminder last night that i’m a bit of a Classist. I am distrusting and uncomfortable around people with money and social standing. And while most people associate Classism with the oppression of poor people, it also comes into play in reverse. Some of us who grew up “without” never quite adapt to life “with”. Even if we have worked hard and earned the right to cross that social barrier, we will forever feel foreign when we get there. Some of it comes from formative years questioning our worth in a society that values wealth. The rest of it lays with the simple human need for familiarity. And just like no knowledge of kale being a superfood makes it any more palatable, no understanding that “worth” and “value” have little to do with money or titles makes it any easier to talk to the master when you feel like the house elf.
Don’t get me wrong, you can dress me up in gilt and pancake, and i will perform like i was born to be at the ball. I will talk and dance and socialize like i am Rita Hayworth’s red-headed step-child. But it is just a performance. I might as well be playing a giant praying mantis for all the common i have with the character. It feels absurd. Dishonest. And definitely not like my best stage work.
To tell the truth, my inability to step confidently in that world annoys me.
I try my best to treat everyone as an equal. I strive to treat all with love and respect. I evangelize the need for equality amongst humanity. But i myself feel like a fake when i call my higher-titled coworkers by their first name. And if they speak familiarly with me, i assume there is some need or reason that will turn out to be a play on me and bite me in the ass. It’s just stupid. These patterns in my head. Stupid. I know they are the same types of neural patterns that once caused me to keep getting married… The repetition becoming a bad habit. But where marriage had visible, undeniable implications, a faulty mindset often doesn’t. And it is harder to correct something that doesn’t eventually slap you in the face with a price.
Just like the porn stars and their comfortable nakedness, we grow to accept these bad habits, these self-imposed labels of beastliness, as familiar friends, even tho they are the kind of friends who ditch you at the bar for the first cute guy that walks thru the door, leaving you half drunk and without a ride.
With friends like that, we become our own enemy.
I suppose the solution is the old “Fake it til you make it” thing. Force yourself to behave like you belong on both sides of the tracks, and eventually you will believe it. Retrain those neural pathways to take healthier routes. Accept that the equality you favor for others also applies to yourself. Take stock of your own worth. Reassess your own hierarchy. Learn to be comfortable in the clothing you deserve to wear, lest you end up naked in a coffee table book.
It beats the hell out of waiting for Harry Potter to give you a sock.