“Turn around, baby.” “You need to turn around.” “About-face.” “Nice back –- Any chance of viewing your front?” “I’m assuming there’s another side to you?”
Most of the responses I get to having posted a picture of my naked upper back on OKCupid are like this. Starting with the initial barrage of 42 “visitors” while I was still constructing my profile, it has drawn a continuous stream of online suitors.
It’s like they always say, if you want to attract a man, give him an obstacle.
I didn’t set out to exclusively show my back, but after I uploaded that first shot, it seemed to me to suffice. My back represents something about me -- its shape and contours come from being a swimmer; my face I was just born with. Besides, it allowed me to remain anonymous even while presenting an attractive-enough image to draw respondents.
The upper back offers the body’s greatest expanse of naked flesh without sexual features. It is provocative only with a look tossed over a shoulder, the self-awareness of making a display.
On the other hand, men like female flesh; online recreation for males is largely defined by naked ladies. And on dating sites it is broadly accepted that the pictures drive selection, not the profiles.
While OKCupid policy forbids total nudity, literally this was only half nudity. Site administrators didn’t make any problem about allowing this picture.
A little more about the photo: I took it myself, with the automatic-shutter setting on my camera. My arms are raised as though to fix my hair, which is in a sloppy ponytail.
Apparently a gesture known to raise the breasts is enough to suggest them even from the back. Also, my apartment is tiny. I didn’t realize until afterward, but for the purposes of nude picture-taking in the privacy of my home, my bed is unavoidably the horizon line and I am facing it.
Some more responses:
“I can tell quite a bit from your back, but not quite enough. Fronts I read very easily,” challenges one man.
“No matter how long I stare or how hard I try, I can’t see the front,” says another, plaintively.
“You hide your face, which is a red flag to me,” says a single psychologist asserting the authority of his professional standing. Nevertheless he has initiated contact, not heeding his own warning.
My response to him is that it’s a glass-half-empty/ half-full proposition. It was likely that no other women onsite had shared a picture of their back. And generally, how many people do not actually look like the images they post, however forthright they seem?
“You do have what appears to be a lovely back which would look great in a backless dress,” he conceded. “I also agree that you are showing more than many other women.” He then proffered an invitation to dinner, willingly blind.
Another man engages with my back as its own entity. He fleshes out a massage fantasy with the promise of strong arms, “broad fingerpads” and lavender oil. As in real life, massage is foreplay. After several unanswered messages in this vein he proposes to visit me from another city four hours away, even though he only knows what I look like from the back, waist up.
Others promise they can get to my neighborhood in minutes.
“I would be interested in meeting you for coffee and seeing that lovely face,” says one, having manufactured a visage to go with the back. But he is looking for a serious relationship and needs to be reassured that I am a Nice Girl, given that I have posted a naked half-portrait.
“The upper back is not typically an erogenous zone,” I point out.
Other men with no such reservations arrange dates in every necessary detail except for having no idea what I look like.
“You will know me because I always enter restaurants backward and naked,” I message one date prior to our meeting, a subtle suggestion that it’s OK to ask for a picture of my face. Because I would rather be rejected online than in person.
“I don’t want to create any awkwardness by being overdressed, so I will be naked too,” he blithely replies.
On the occasion of our rendezvous, the maitre d’ acts as go-between, using the reservation to seat us together as we arrive, first one then the other.
Having got to such a late stage in this process, men valiantly refrain from any suggestion that a woman’s appearance is important to them. Or maybe there’s some magical thinking involved, believing if they can hold out til the end, the woman who appears will be their fantasy. So I start forthrightly offering to send a frontal photo (“clothed,” I state, to deflect misunderstanding).
They demur! They agree only when I suggest it’s to facilitate meeting up with the right person.
I online dated some years ago, with the officially prescribed smiling close-up. Some of the same guys have been responding to my flip side without realizing the concordance, only proving that nobody reads the profiles. I recognize them because they’re still selling themselves with the same photos, which it’s a good bet they no longer resemble.
One of them had long ago initiated contact with a blunt sexual proposition, but he sweetly offers my dorsal side a visit to the museum of my choice and dinner … and keeps upping the ante until I block him.
Some men cruise the site like voyeurs. They register themselves only as a screen name. But then these phantasms contact me. It’s hard to request some representative image and make it seem equitable.
“You’ve seen my… back.” I can’t strictly ask to see a face. I hold my breath lest someone take this as an invitation to send a portrait of their penis to my personal inbox, but so far it hasn’t happened.
This experiment has generated masses of sexual interest, which is lots of fun, and it’s anyway necessary to attract people before you can interact. And some part of me hopes that going outside the conventions of the dating-profile photo will help people suspend preconceptions of what they’re looking for and actively engage me as an individual. Still, each time I receive the same joke (“Turn around, baby”), it gets a little less exciting.
The popularity of online dating is no doubt partly due to its remove. The anonymity of my back maybe furthers it; some men message as intimately as if they were invisible, out of the sense I am not watching. For all the dates that were proposed or that I went on, there have been at least as many responses from men who never expected to be accountable in real life.
I don’t know what the answer is. A photo can show either a front or a back. You don’t achieve full dimensionality until you get offline, so you try to get there as quickly as you can.
In the meantime, I have a new naked back shot a friend took in his garden in Brooklyn. It looks like temptation in Eden.