The song I chose to be married to this article is Otis Redding’s lovely rendition of Security. I am a seriously devoted Otis fan going back to my early childhood when I would listen to my mother’s records on our Hifi. While I’m also an Etta fan, her rendition changed the connotations of the song to be more about financial security. I always preferred Otis’s version. His described a desire for the safety of mutual respect and reciprocity of love that my little girl self could identify with but not yet articulate.
I am going to make a confession, a salaciously embarrassing confession, which may possibly be revealing too much of my fleshy underbelly. However, I am willing to embarrass myself a little bit, or maybe a lot, depending upon taste, for the sake of all of us learning from it. I am willing to place solid money on the idea that many of you have experienced the similar feelings for which I am about to describe, and perhaps would benefit from an open discussion on the topic of insecurity.
Much like the middle school halls of yesteryear, this drama begins in its modern day counterpart, Instagram. Last year, I noticed that one of my favorite former professors was on the gram, we had mutual friends and the algorithm suggested his profile to me. I followed him. He followed me back. I was excited to catch up, so I sent him a message asking if he remembered me from all those years ago, and recalled to him a moment from one of our class discussions of which I was particularly proud. He said he had remembered me, and it absolutely made my day. You see back then, his was the only class for which I was punctual, and never missed. He is an artist, and I was impressed by his work and if I am being honest had somewhat of an identity crush. I wanted to be just like him. He was smart, funny, and cool. He was everything that I was hoping that I might be after finishing my art degree. I admired him a great deal.
After our brief interaction, we each went about our normal instagram lives, occasionally commenting and liking one another’s posts. Then, I am not sure when it happened, but I discovered that he had unfollowed me. I was puzzled, and quite frankly, it hurt my feelings. Even more disconcerting to me, he had left me as a follower, as though I were but a mere fan. The nerve, you say? Indeed.
Suddenly, I began to question every interaction: Did I do something? Had I said something that offended him? Was I rude? Maybe I seemed weird to him? After thoroughly going through every interaction in my mind, I cleared myself of any offensive acts. Then I began a new and even more anxious spiral of self-doubt that lasted into the next morning: He must not like my work. What if he thinks my artwork is stupid? What if he thinks I am stupid? What if he thinks I’m too much? Too ridiculous? He probably thinks I am not a serious artist. He probably thinks my art is weird! He probably thinks I am a stupid girl who has no talent. I was sad, and I said the most dreadful things to myself.
I began to go back through my posts and noticed that many of my posted artwork he had “liked”.
Why would someone go to the trouble of ‘liking’ it, if they don’t actually like it?
I was becoming obsessive. I considered messaging him to ask him why he had unfollowed me. However, I am self aware enough to know that it would seem desperate and a little nuts. Moreover, I was not emotionally prepared to deal with doubling down on my rejection. He could potentially tell me, ‘Yes, I think you are a stupid girl and your work does in fact suck’ or some variation of that, however unlikely.
But how else do I gain a reprieve from my feelings? I have always been a ‘confront the issue directly’ kind of woman. Yet, my confidence was being inhibited by emotional memories of middle school rejection, the feeling that once again, I am somehow ‘not one of the cool kids’.
After thoroughly agonizing for hours and feeding myself dreadful scenarios in which I was quite possibly a loser; I realized that none of this was helping me understand why this man who I seemingly had a good rapport with would suddenly find himself too good to ‘follow’ me.
I drifted into another area of self doubt: Is it because I am a woman?
As a female artist, I have had a bit of a chip on my shoulder that I try not to reveal to others. I am not the first woman in the world to feel that perhaps, her sexuality is inhibiting her. It is hard to be taken seriously as anything, when you have a body like mine. Even as a teacher, I have experienced sexual harassment from students and their parents, only to be told by administration that it was to be expected by young men for someone “with my figure”. In fact, one of the reasons I began coloring my hair dark, was because it was a lot harder to be a large breasted blonde.
When I was eleven, I managed to go from no-cup to a c-cup over a single summer. Before that summer, I had been recognized as an intelligent girl, an overachiever, in honors classes, by autumn, I had been cast as a blonde bimbo. Adults who had once praised me as being “such a bright young lady” were now somehow suggesting that I was intentionally trying to seduce every person with a Y chromosome by squeezing my giant tits into my tiny middle school T-shirts. I was no longer taken seriously. I hated the attention that my breasts brought me. The boys were bad enough, but the girls were ruthless. They assumed I enjoyed the attention I was receiving and bullied me for it. One weekend, I went to my friend Charity’s house, and cut my long wavy blonde hair down to a short angled bob, and together we dyed it jet black. I was 12.
As a brunette, I still experience objectification, just a version that feels less demeaning to my intelligence. As a blonde, I felt that I had to hide my sexuality more, I wore baggy clothes to hide my body and I behaved more conservatively. Recently, in my work, I started to explore my sexuality, through self portrait collages and photographing sections of my body, and eliminating the face and eyes through censoring or omission. Some of it was seductive in nature, purposefully to induce the idea that it was meant to be sensual, because it felt empowering to do so. It was also intended to discuss the topic of objectification and autonomy of sexual identity. This shift in my work, brought with it, a level of attention and scrutiny that was not always positive.
Some men took my artwork as a signal that they were allowed to interact with me online in various unsavory ways, and perhaps more disconcerting to me, the judgment from other women who characterized me in equally unsavory ways. Instead of an artist exploring her sexual identity through her art, to some people, I am just another ‘instagram ho’.
Though this type of reaction is exactly what my work is meant to explore, if I have learned one thing as a woman, it is never underestimate people’s ability to completely fucking miss the point. I am not a naive person. I expected this might happen, in fact, it became part of the work for me.
Furthermore, I’m speaking solely now to my fellow members of the big titty committee. Yes, I am speaking directly to that bead of sweat dripping down your underwire right now. You know as well as I what happened with Professor Unfollow McWeakface. He has a significant other who saw that he followed me, and she took one look at some of my images and these luscious double Ds, and said to herself, “Aw hell naw.”
It’s an Instagram tale as old as time. It just took me a few agonizing hours and one embarrassing conversation with my former Professor, (Yes. I did) to figure it out.
Just like in middle school, when Cyrstal told me I could not sit with her and Becky anymore at lunch because her crush David had stared a little too long at my jumper, in some way or another these big bad girls have been in my way. Whether it is because THEIR woman viewed me as a threat, or my significant other views THEM as a threat, I have lost many a male-friend behind my body type. My untrustworthy and salacious breasts have been a long standing hindrance in forming positive relationships with both women and men. I had many former friendships that were fraught with jealousy and body shaming from another woman with a smaller chest. There is a reason why it is rare you see two female besties with completely different body types. Men just cannot be trusted to navigate these dangerous curves.
As I wallowed momentarily in this third self doubt spiral, over analyzing his mild rejection as part of a painful loop of self hatred for my body and its connotations, I had an epiphany: I do not want to care about this. I don’t. Someone else’s reaction to my curvy frame is not my problem. Regardless of what the reason is for this person deciding to unfollow me, it does not matter, and it is not my problem to solve.
While not everyone one of you will have the same melodramatic reaction as me to something so trivial, if at least part of this experience resonates with you, whether you have been the recipient or perhaps the arbiter of judgment, let me say this: As long as we continue to judge other women by fictional standards and virtues crafted by a subjugative system, we will continue to be active participants in our own oppression.
In other words, all titties are worthy, whether they are big, small, or none at all. I’m going to do my part by making 2023, the year that I stopped caring what other people think of my body, or my body of work, for that matter, and I invite you to love yourself as well. Love is contagious. Perhaps if we are all busy loving ourselves, we will have less time to hate on others.