Well, I’ve received about 25 results from my homework request yesterday. I’m going to leave the survey open for a bit just in case someone else wants to send a message. Thank you to everyone who decided to help me out with this, it really means a lot to me. I think the exercise was both valuable and challenging and overall I’m glad I did it. I actually wasn’t planning on writing an update post about some of the messages I received but due to the content of some of them, I changed my mind.
A quick note before the results. If you were one of the people who said you wished we stayed in touch more or missed talking, whether I knew you from the military, high school, DC, LA, Burning Man, biking, whatever. Please, shoot me an email, I really would love to catch up and reconnect (email@example.com).
So, here are the results as well as my initial thoughts about them, as well as how I tried to combat any negative thoughts.
First, there were some pretty strong overall themes throughout the messages. The four most common things mentioned were:
- Openness, transparency, vulnerability – particularly when it comes to daily struggles, successes, recreational drug use, sex, and sexuality. This part of my personality helps others feel more comfortable with who they are (which is a pretty high compliment to me)
- Adventurous, risk-taker, free-spirit, courageous, joie de vivre (I had to look that one up) – this mostly related to my bike adventures and the random trouble I get myself into. I find it interesting that this particular aspect of my life would be viewed as a negative by some people.
- Non-judgemental, open-minded – people like that I’m willing to attentively listen to those who have different opinions, give people the benefit of the doubt and am willing to challenge all of my own core beliefs.
- Kind, compassionate, – I’m willing to put others first, help those in need, and be supportive of friends. I’m also willing to give advice on sex, relationships, safe drug use, and pretty much everything else. In fact, I enjoy doing that and receiving Sarahah messages with questions is one of my favorite things.
My initial reaction when reading these was discomfort and a part of my brain tried to minimize their value. A little voice inside my head was saying, “So what if you are open, that comes easily to you. There is no value in doing what is easy”. But the truth is, it wasn’t always easy for me, it was something that I intellectually valued and had to work hard to get comfortable with. There was a day when I wouldn’t have been okay with people knowing at what age I lost my virginity (23) and now I don’t care if people know that I like butt plugs and have erotically sensitive nipples. I should give myself credit for working at these values and seeing the fruits of that work.
I may have felt a little uncomfortable with those common themes, but they didn’t particularly surprise me. There were a few things that really surprised me though. A few people said they think I’m attractive, funny, and fun to hang around.
The truth is, I don’t really see those attributes in myself, particularly being attractive. Getting an unsolicited “hey, you look good” or “hey, you have a great chest” is really surprising to me (in a good way). I’m just not used to physical compliments from someone I’m not sleeping with or sexting on Snapchat. My therapist and I have been exploring this a bit. I am beginning to realize that I do have a pretty distorted view of my own physical appearance. I think this comes down to two interrelated toxic ideas that have grown inside my subconscious.
First, that attractive people are assholes. I don’t logically think this is the case but I still feel like attractive people (particularly women) will look down on me and won’t value my friendship. It is much harder for me to open up to someone who I think is attractive because part of me feels like I’m the butt of a joke. I really don’t know where this came from. The hot people in my high school were always super nice, my attractive co-workers have always been great, and women I have encountered throughout life have been lovely. Is this shitty society or puritanism or something else? I don’t fucking know.
The second idea is that being physically attractive is somehow something we shouldn’t see as valuable. Now, I understand that a lot of people hit the genetic lottery when it comes to their appearance, but that is true of intellectual things as well. Stephen Hawking didn’t prosper purely based on hard work or merit, he was born with a powerful brain. Should we discount him because of that?
Also, it isn’t all genetics. I have been working very hard to get healthier and sexier. It has taken time, money, and effort. I’ve had to sacrifice things I enjoyed because I had a desire to accomplish things that required a certain level of fitness. And I also like feeling attractive to other people. Actually, I think maybe working in an office is having a negative impact on my self-image. I haven’t had a good, in-person flirt in a very long time. I miss that, the subtle smile, the longer-than-necessary eye contact, that tangible feeling in the air.
Oh, one more thing, I think that our culture does a really shitty job with encouraging body positivity. I didn’t see another naked man (outside of porn) until I was in my 20’s. We don’t see non-sexualized nudity and the sexualized nudity we do see involves actors who are chosen based on certain physical characteristics. My only point of reference for how an abdomen or dick should look was from porn. So, even to this day when I feel my most self-conscious I end up googling “average dick size” or “average weight for 36-year-old male”, etc. to reassure myself that I am not substantially “weird”. As a side note, the fact that dick size is linked to value for men is pretty shitty. Nobody has control over that.
***Damn it, I had something else I wanted to say but got distracted by spell check***
Oh, I remember. I think this lack of non-actor body experiences is why I really enjoy my Snapchat friends who share nude and sexual pictures with me. Seeing the different vulvas, chests, areolas, etc. only serves to increase my self-confidence because I see the variety that human bodies come in. We are beautifully diverse and by sharing that diversity we make others more comfortable. That’s why I love events like The World Naked Bike Ride, and going to nude beaches, and hanging out with a few of my friends naked on a lazy Saturday, because that casually nudity breaks down body negativity and increases confidence.
Oh, and someone sent me this image which I thought was pretty perfect.
Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a Snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail?
Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Questions: pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”