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One of the pictures artfully blurred for xoJane consumption.
I had only been working as a figure drawing model for a few months when I was asked if I’d be interested in posing for an online feature on art-school models, “clothed, nude, and interviewed,” for Time Out New York. My friend worked at NYU and had recently hooked me up with some gigs there; almost as soon as I started, the request came across the desk of their modeling coordinator.
As if I had just (embarrassingly?) seen the Jim Carrey movie, "Yes Man," my instinct was to just say yes! Of course it was. I mean, not every day does someone offer you the opportunity to take your clothes off for a major publication. And for free, no less -- I was not getting paid for this.
While I realize this is the way most people would define the word nightmare, for me, it truly felt like a golden little opportunity. A chance to be bold and not self-conscious about my body, free advertising for my online magazine Sadie (there it is again!), and most importantly, the hope that I was getting one step closer to eliminating the stigma against being naked outside of your bedroom. Whoopee. I was in.
Other reasons came to mind, too. Writers have a sort of unwritten ordinance or clause in their self-contracts to put themselves in slightly uncomfortable situations in order to, say, indirectly write about them years later for a publication like xoJane.
When presented that way, I was essentially obliged to say yes. Also, that things lead to other things, and if an opportunity you don’t absolutely despise presents itself, you should probably say yes because you never know what it might lead to down the line. And am I allowed to admit that there was at least a part of me, maybe a small part, though, let’s face it, these things are hard to measure accurately, that kind of wanted to be able to look back at my twentysomething body when I’m 70 and admiringly pat myself on the back, or more appropriately given the circumstances, on the naked butt?
So, I agreed to be included in the article, naked photo shoot et al, and a few weeks later, evidence of my decision turned up on TONY’s Web site, as planned. And it was actually fine. The photos were tastefully done; I emailed them to a few close friends, shared them with my mom and her bff, got some badass compliments on my bravery, and the whole thing subsided. Life as I had known it BA, before (the) article, went on.
Everything was hunky-dory until I realized one oversight that came with time, and it wasn’t small. Oh, why hadn’t I thought of this before? Google.
For the first few months, when I would Google myself to see where the TONY article might fall, it would come up on the fifth page, the fourth -- it even graced the bottom of the third -- but still, I felt safe. Everyone had something embarrassing surface a few pages into their Google searches. Who ever got that far anyway?
And fully clothed.
Eventually I stopped checking, leaving my Google status in the hands of the Internet Gods. Whoever they might be, I was sure they had my back. I had always been good to the Internet, after all -- maintaining Web sites, blogs, keeping up with Facebook and Twitter accounts; occasionally I even responded to those Netflix survey emails.
Of course, and I think you can guess where this is going, the next time I checked, things had changed, indeed. Naked photos of me on the Internet had risen to number two on my Google status. Oh my.
Not long after, I got an email from my good friend and then-band’s publicist, Nathan, who had come across the photos unexpectedly while searching for reviews of our latest record. While his verbatim response escapes me, it was just the amount of shocked, and slightly embarrassed, and yet trying to play it cool that you might expect from your male friend.
Another friend, an Internet buddy I had met through writing, confessed in an email to Googling me -- “We all admit we do this now, right?” she had asked. (I had, of course, Googled her, as well, and I felt relieved that she was setting the tone to freely admit this sort of thing.) She didn’t seem shocked like Nathan had been, or at least she didn’t act that way in her email; she was more concerned, matter-of-fact. She wanted to make sure I knew what the results of my Google search had dredged up.
What did it all mean? I had no idea.
Many months later, I still don’t know what it means. I had a feeling based on my friends’ reactions that there were most likely some other people out there who had noticed my mildly unfortunate Google status and formed opinions, good or bad. But whoever they were, they weren’t reporting back, so I didn’t know what the cycle looked like.
Depending on my relationship, or non-relationship, to the Googler, I imagined: curiosity; surprise, an out loud “Whoa!” perhaps, or a “Ummm ... ?” And then either disinterest, dismissal, judgment, or the need to email their friends a link to the article.
Maybe an editor liked a pitch I sent, but then Googled me, and the naked photos stopped the go-ahead I might have received in its tracks. Or maybe the opposite scenario ensued and the photos worked in my favor, giving my proposed story, or me, as a writer, an edge said editor was previously unaware of.
Maybe someone I met at a party who I gave my card to, or who I forgot to give my card to, Googled me when they got home and came across the photos; maybe they didn’t think twice about them or give a shit. Or quite possibly (and much more likely, I’m sure), they never even bothered to look me up -- but, hey, you never know.
I ran into a high school boyfriend not too long ago and he greeted me smiling, noting that he had caught a glimpse of the photos, but he never mentioned how they had come to him. I didn’t even bother to ask. I wondered if other ex-boyfriends had Googled me since our breakups like I had occasionally Googled them, or if they had better things to do like work at their jobs, dote on their current girlfriends, make music, go to the park, Google other ex-girlfriends besides me.
My current boyfriend is the same boyfriend I had when I posed for the photos, and he was generously understanding and supportive about my decision to be included in the article. Had I still been single at the time, though, it might have been weird.
Let’s say you met me out and then you went home and Googled me. Maybe that would be a deal-breaker for you. Maybe you’d feel jealous, or make an incorrect assumption about me. Maybe you would think these photos meant I was an exhibitionist of some sort and you would expect me to be an exhibitionist for you.
If given the opportunity to pose nude for TONY or any other major publication now, I’m not sure how I would respond. I’d like to think there are many things I did several years ago that I might not do now for various reasons, but it doesn’t mean I wish I hadn’t done them or that I would take them back.To borrow logic from Tim Riggins’s line of thinking ("Friday Night Lights," duh), “No regrets.”
But I would be lying if I said that my Google status as it currently stands doesn’t leave me with an occasional tinge of worry about whose laps the photos may fall into; and that if an Internet troll offered to move them back by three to five pages, I would refuse him. If it were a simple enough task, I might give him the go-ahead just to be safe.
When agreeing to have your photo taken for a Web site whose content is constantly shifting, it’s easy to imagine that your story might get lost in the shuffle. But the thing I forgot is that the Internet as a whole has a shelf life far longer than TONY’s story of the moment.
And by the way, yes, of course it has occurred to me that writing this article will not help my Google status, but, you know, usually a good story wins out in the end.