For the past thirty minutes, I have been sitting at an overrated hipster cafe in the heart of the trendiest and shabbiest part of Los Angeles trying to log on to a painfully slow wireless connection. I’m parked alone at a table on a secluded back patio covered in big, leafy trees gently rustling in the spring air. I feel both casually frustrated and aggressively serene. In the past half hour, an arbitrary internet thingie has captured my Facebook profile, my Instagram handle, my favorite type of donut and my shoe size. Now, this six-dollar cup of watered down chai tea that tastes more like mouthwash is probably going to cost me my identity and my Costco membership.
At one point of connectivity desperation, I even try to log into the Jack-In-The-Box next door. Wait, what? JACK-IN-THE-BOX has wifi? I am both amazed and a little terrified. Do I want to get my internet from a place that serves a panoply of dishes such as birthday cake tacos, fried cheese eggrolls, and apple dipping sauce? Plus the guy telling you to eat their food has the head of a discarded voodoo doll. It seems a little too cagey even by my very low standards. However, they reject my request. Great. Now I can check, “Rejected by Jack-In-The-Box” off my bucket list.
But fifteen minutes later, right when I’ve clicked off every captcha box and assured every pop-up window I am neither a scamming robot nor in need of a Big-N-Beefy-Jack-N-Cheese, I have finally gotten logged onto the internet to do some work promoting my upcoming shows and new music release.
Sure enough, not, two minutes into falling down the abyss that is my social media news feed, a party of seven sits down next to me with a gargantuan talking parrot. Yes. This was an honesttogod, Toucan Sam, Fruit-Loop-hocking, ride-on-the-shoulder, get-me-my-eye-patch, parrot. And before I’ve gotten a chance to make a joke about breakfast cereal, the parrot has begun catcalling me. I have to admit, what I am lacking in concentration, I am making up for in self-confidence or consciousness. I can’t quite tell which yet. The parrot, whose name I have learned is “Elvira”, is both shockingly crude and apparently, a lesbian. You might call her an anti-feminist, lesbirot.
I don’t recall the last time I heard, “You got a hot booty baby. I wanna grab that junk train”. Unless you count the guy giving me my test at the DMV. (And then I just thought he was referring to a question about alternate modes of transportation.)
While I’m not sure what to say to Elvira’s owners since she’s now talking about how robust my boobs are, it’s making me think twice about where I’ve been looking for validation lately.
Suffice it to say, most everyone these days has access to the internet and social media. Day in and day out, we are perpetually punched in the face with a raging flood of images, ideas, news, products to consume, and suggestions of ways to make our lives seemingly better.
How we each individually process the assault of information, varies greatly. But for me personally, I’ve been having a little bit of a hard time disconnecting for the images I see in my feed and what I’m understanding to be “normal” life. I’m going to be honest, it’s hard not to compare one’s life to what we see on these tiny little screens before us. But as one of my friends once told me, social media is the highlight reel of people’s lives. What we see in these microscopic soundbites is not an accurate description of what is real.
My thumb scrolls through memes telling me to “love myself”, “be a warrior” and “kick ass in a dress”, in bold, italicized Helvetica, set against a backdrop of ocean sunsets and frosty mountain peaks. But I also see image after image rolling by of bikini-clad women working in cabanas off the coast of Greece, testifying to passively making seven-figure incomes while learning how to scuba dive. Or I’ll see photos of friends with their slumbering newborn babies backpacking through the mountains of Peru. Or the images of musicians taking selfies in front of mobs of crazed audience members. Or the artsy photos by the guy who’s built his home out of recycled soda bottles and peppermint patty wrappers. He’s not only eco-friendly but he’s made the whole neighborhood smell like Christmas.
After five-minutes accidentally turns into a fifteen-minute scroll through other people’s lives, I’ve once again fallen into that icky feeling. You know the one where you feel a lot less significant in the world and that somehow no matter how many hours in the day you work on making the most of your life, you feel like it’s not enough, and you’re not enough. Also, your hand has cramped up, and you’re actually losing feeling but you’ve gone into a blue-screened coma and you swear you’re just going to look at one more video of someone sculpting a boat out of butter.
Maybe it’s just me, but it really feels like it can scramble one’s identity (and digit dexterity) when spending too much time comparing other people’s fact and fiction to my own. I have to remind myself often, (like, really often) not to compare myself to other people. I have to remind myself like it’s my job because it is. It is my job to live my life to the best of my ability. And that’s all I’ve got to worry about. (That, and when is Elvira going ask me on a proper date.)
Perhaps not unlike many other human beings buying into this whole need to feel noticed, validated, and accepted, I sometimes scrutinize images before I post them publicly. For instance, here are some of the thoughts that ran through my head the other day before posting a photo on Instagram:
“Do I look fat?”
“Do I look happy?
“Do I look sexy, but not too sexy? Is looking too sexy a good thing or a bad thing? Wait, maybe I should look sexier? But then I don’t want to look like I’m trying to look sexy. No one likes to look at someone who is trying to look sexy. Unless you’re being ironic, but then you’re being funny. And funny usually isn’t sexy. Or is it? I mean, do I like to look at pictures of Tina Fey with cleavage? No. I’d rather see her attempting to breakdance in poorly fitted jeans. But why should I be afraid of being confident in my body? Or maybe I’m just not attracted to Tina Fey? That’s ok. Is that ok?
Maybe I’m delusional and I’m like one of those people you see wearing badly torn, cut-off short-shorts with high-heeled flip flops and you think, “Good for her! But I’d never wear that in public.” Wait, does this mean I’m a judgemental person? Oh shit, I’m a really judgemental person!
Also, I shouldn’t show my cleavage. No one wants to see that. Or do they? Can I show cleavage without getting backlash for showing my cleavage?
Can you see my dead, black, pirate-tooth from this angle? Can you see my silver fillings from that angle? Curse the drunk dentist who gave me a jacked up root canal! Curse the drunk dentist who told me to get metal fillings! What is this 1873? Is the Mercury leaking from my fillings? Does that explain why eating hard boiled eggs tastes like I’m sucking on a penny? Why have all my dentists been alcoholics?
Does my nose look asymmetrical? Can you see those tiny lines around my nose that make me look like I’ve snorted a lot of cocaine? I mean, no judgment for those who do, but I should at least have gotten high to have my nose look that red. Should I regret never having done cocaine?
Wow, those dark circles under my eyes need to be photoshopped. But not too much because then I’ll look like one of those people who photoshop too much and look like their face is made out of polyester. Dammit, there I go again being a judgemental person.
I’m not wearing a bra in this, will people think I’m making a statement? Am I making a statement? Do my boobs look normal? What do normal boobs look like?
Ok, so my belly is not flat. Be ok with that. Be ok with that. Be ok with that. Am I ok with that?
Why is it when I’m smiling my truest, happiest smile, a giant vein pops out of my forehead?
Is my neck doing something weird?
SOooooo…. that’s what I thought about before I posted a singular photo.
However, the other night I got to have a transformative experience during a photo shoot with an incredible woman, artist, and visionary, my friend and guru, Brig Van Osten. This is a woman who has inspired me for years as a hairstylist, sculptor, costume designer, entrepreneur, photographer, car builder, certified pilot, and pastry chef. She makes Martha Stewart look like a catatonic eggplant. And somehow, even though she’s about two clicks shy of being knighted, she gracefully manages to make everyone around her feel like a goddamned superhero.
She is who I went crying to on a rainy night eight weeks ago, questioning if wearing too many ponytails was making my hair fall out. Was taking too many showers the cause? Or was it because I sweat too much? She told me not to panic and that it was stress. She instructed me to sit down, close my eyes, and two hours later I opened them to reveal a swinging 1980’s disco hairdo that I immediately fell in love with. Also, I have been mistaken for Natasha Leone (a popular actress on a new Netflix show, “Russian Doll“) no less than forty-seven-thousand times. You’re welcome, Natasha. Happy to help promote your show. I think I more closely resemble Weird Al Yankovic. But you can decide.
So, two days ago, I walked into Brig’s house with a unitard, a jump rope, and a roll of silver duct tape and told her to have her way with me in front of the camera. We danced around for hours jamming Prince and Janet Jackson while she assembled me in full regalia. Then at midnight, I catwalked down the middle of the street in a 1940’s corset, a gold feather choker, and red thigh-high patent leather boots. And just like that, I fearlessly imagined myself as that goddamned superhero. Hollering spontaneous phrases like, “You are insane!”, “Holy shit yes!”, and “That see-through unitard fits you perfectly!”, made me smile on the inside, even while she had me rolled up in a green shower curtain, clutching a plastic zebra’s head, blinded by four-inch fake lashes. Instead of worrying if I was too chubby to pull off a neon yellow, tricked-out lion tamer outfit with matching mohawk, I listened to my friend cheering me on telling me I was unstoppable. (Until a diaper delivery truck almost hit me. Then I was temporarily stoppable.) As my tatas ran rampant, I felt absurd and ballsy and remarkably powerful. I wanted to kick someone’s ass. (Maybe the guy at that DMV?) Regardless, in those perfectly ridiculous and playful moments, I finally felt like I was squashing every voice of self-doubt holding court in my head.
After that remarkable night, it’s become increasingly clear to me what I personally need to get out of the cyber prison perpetually judging my perceived value. While the tubes of the internet (thank you Al Gore) connect us in extraordinary ways, for me, I realize it’s vital to maintain real life, personal connections with people, parrots and even badly watered down cups of tea.
Yes, I could have written this story in my living room, in the dark, while eating a bag full of chocolate chips, much like any other Sunday. But when I force myself to reconnect to those around me, be they friend or fowl, I am reminded of my own place, visibility, and value in the scheme of things. I even walked back in to get a refill on that terrible drink. I’m not sure why. Maybe I was just craving an extra moment of connection after being hopped up on caffeine. Every interaction doesn’t need to be perfect, but there’s a lot to be said for making friends with a barista over a shabby cup of tea. We made each other laugh for a minute, we somehow revealed flaws about ourselves, and what made our day special and mundane. It was a delightfully average, yet a perfect personal connection to my humanity.
So I am again reminded that beauty and human value can look and feel a thousand different ways. Whether it was for a few hours of taking pictures dressed up like a post-apocalyptic prison guard, or a few moments with a kind, albeit lousy barista, or for a few moments when Elvira thinks I’m the hottest bird in the city. The practice of reminding myself I am beautiful for simply existing is one that can happen every moment of the day, freeing me to let go, look up, and connect to the things I can smell, taste, touch, understand and love.