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Public Freakout photo

Seeing a picture of my tits online didn’t bother me as much as it should have. 

I cocked my head to the side, pretended I was one of the men perusing the forum. “Eight outta ten,” I thought. “Mildly asymmetrical, would still smash though.”

A certain type of woman will lie to herself and say it’s empowering, being ogled at by anonymous men. I know better than that. There’s nothing empowering about some sweaty guy illuminated by his computer screen whacking off to a picture of me, imagining he’s fucking me, grabbing my neck and choking me, spitting in my mouth. I tell myself how brave it makes me that he’s paying for my pictures. Being an active participant in my own exploitation doesn’t make me brave.

I worked in an office, obsessively peeling skin away from various parts of my body, putting off showering until the weekend. I went to a big, public university and held doors open for people. I had an unrefined enthusiasm that was mawkishly sincere. I picked and picked and picked. I bled. I didn’t want any new scars on my face-- I had one above my eyebrow, from stitches after a car accident. Another, on my chin, had started as a hormonal pimple, one of those painful cysts burrowed deep under the skin. I tried to treat it. I used creams and ointments and a compress so hot my eyes watered when I held it to my face. The zit persisted. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I clawed into it with my dirty fingernails. The blemish went from convex to concave. The  missing flesh sometimes wept lymphatic fluid. I only felt comfortable with a large bandage covering it. That way I could tell people I ate shit on my bike, which was somehow less embarrassing.

I sat cross-legged in front of my 2014 Macbook with a dent on the corner from the time it fell off of my bed, wearing shorts and a t-shirt but no underwear. The summer air felt heavy. I was waiting for lightning to break open the sky.

My bedroom, the smallest of the four in my apartment, reeked of alcohol bottles, marijuana, and post-masturbation stink. I hadn’t had sex in almost a year. The last guy was a failed experiment who stopped talking to me and seemed irritated when I asked why. I got off on porn and online men clamoring to see my tits. 

Growing up plain-looking, I believed there was some inherent power in  being beautiful, like it was only bestowed upon special women, women that deserved it. The idea of boys discussing me and admitting they thought I was hot excited me because I finally felt like I was becoming a person. The clothing I bought, the music I listened to, the things I posted online– it was all a carefully curated performance to make guys want to fuck me. And when they did want to, when they sent incessant messages, slightly threatening in nature, I’d ask myself, “Why did I want this again? Men are disgusting.”

But I thought that being wanted would give me power, an edge. It didn’t occur to me that other girls could be preoccupied with anything else. What could be more important than figuring out how to use people to your advantage?

I tried to keep it in my throat. I wanted to be beautiful, but felt sure that I wasn’t. I reluctantly admired girls who begged to be seen, in spite of their lack of charisma or talent. I was always too ashamed to demand attention from anyone else. I could tell myself how much better I was, but it was only to quell the sense that I was pissing my life, and what little youthful beauty I had, away by spending Friday nights in with my vibrator. 

I justified living in New York by working a job in “media,” a nebulous industry shorthand for “I am not that good at anything in particular.” I went to an expensive university, got a specialized degree in something creative, and decided I could cut it in New York. My degree landed me an “office manager”-ish position at a production company in Brooklyn. It was low-paying, but I was grateful to have a salary, and healthcare, and to finally work in an office instead of a coffee shop so my mom could stop texting me job listings all day. It probably killed her to sit at home thinking about how much money she sunk into my useless degree.

After work, I’d take the train straight home to smoke and drink from a water bottle filled with lukewarm vodka. I’d sit on my bedroom floor for hours, until my bony ass went numb, watching “Public Freakout” videos on my phone. I was soothed by the chaos unfolding out in the world, by the filmed evidence of someone having a worse day than me, embarrassing themselves, losing their cool. It was proof I wasn’t the worst person ever.



image: Sydney Hirsch