My friend is a burlesque performer. She’s quite good, and always receives well-deserved praise for her excellent numbers. I can’t imagine what this is like—I have terrible stage fright, and avoid public performances whenever possible. I’m perfectly fine standing naked in front of a room full of people, but ask me to sing or dance or play piano and I’m trembling. I never expected we’d have much in common.
We were talking about this, and she said something interesting about performing, particularly after a gig. She appreciates getting praise after a performance, but sometimes it’s so over the top it barely makes sense. To her, it’s like they’re saying: “You’re so great that I would eat your boogers!” It makes her wonder. Did they get what she artistically expressed, or did they just like her because she’s pretty?
I knew that feeling exactly. I get it from my inbox.
Between my modeling and the blog, I get a lot of email. Most of it is directly work-related: photographers wanting to book me, or inquiring about travel schedules and rates. I get surprisingly little hate mail for a naked person on the internet with opinions, and none of it truly virulent (at least not yet). But I do get the standard fare of most models: an abundance of dick pics, marriage proposals, and poorly spelled declarations of undying love. The same kind of hyperbolic praise basically misses the point.
It’s gotten so bad that I’ll mutter to myself when I’m opening messages. Answering emails often sounds something like this.
Me: “Please don’t be a dick, please don’t be a dick. Goddamnit."
Boyfriend, from the other room: “Another dick?"
Me, grumbling: “Yup. It’s another dick."
My burlesque dancing friend had given me a word for this: my inbox was full of booger eaters. Previously, I figured it was just part of the territory; booger eating was something I had to ignore when possible, and politely respond to when not. It was something that I had to laugh off like it was nothing. Haha, another marriage proposal. Oh, another penis. How hilarious.
But my friend wasn’t laughing. She was annoyed. And I realized that I was too—not only that I was, but that I could be. It’s silly, and maybe it’s just me, but I always felt obligated to respond to the messages. Even when I knew it wasn’t a good idea, I felt like I really ought to acknowledge them. And if I didn’t respond, I would feel guilty about it.
I realize that might sound naïve. When I started nude modeling, I had steeled myself to have people disagree with me, or even hate me for my decisions. I did the same thing when I started writing: I was prepared to have people yell at me, tell me I was wrong and a terrible person, even threaten me. But this ostensibly positive attention? I didn’t know what to do. I kept finding myself trying to empathize. They must just be trying to be nice, even though they weren’t being terribly effective at it. Right?
But if that were true, you’d think they would talk more about my work, since that’s the whole reason they even know me. But they don’t. I started recognizing that booger eating wasn’t about me at all. Instead, it was completely about them. It was a ploy for attention. Like the over-the-top burlesque praise, it was never about the art, and that’s what made it so annoying.
I think that anybody doing something interesting—like nude models and burlesque performers—can get inundated by booger eaters. So we start to develop, ahem, a nose for it. We start to learn when praise and interest isn’t about us, but is instead a bid for our time. We subconsciously create coping mechanisms. We avoid, we’re polite, we laugh it off.
But I think it’s equally important to consciously acknowledge booger eating when it happens. I don’t think there’s much I can do to stop it, besides get a better spam filter. But I don’t have to let it take up my time and energy that I could be putting towards making more art. I don’t have to wrack my brain looking for a polite response, or feeling guilty that I didn’t engage when someone messages me a thumbs up for three months straight.
Now I can just call it the dismissive name that it deserves, and cherish the delete button.