I've noticed a trend in recent online editorial writing that disturbs me: the trend of the "It's Okay That I'm A Fuck-Up" essay. These are personal confessions from essayists as to how they failed in achieving the goal/career/lifestyle/body that they wanted for themselves, struggled with a self-loathing that came in their repeated failures, and then eventually came to embrace a comfortable defeatism masquerading as healthy self-acceptance.
There are a lot of topics resting comfortably in this sector of self-indulgent editorialism: financial crises ("I'm $130K in debt and that's okay"), addiction ("I'm a drug-addicted stripper," "I'm a compulsive shopper"), obesity ("I was fat-shamed by my doctor" -- psst, if it's your doctor who's bringing up your weight, maybe you should listen!), and general life shortcomings ("I'm still in school at 30 for no good reason"). And the happy feel-good conclusion that generally comes at the end of each confession is "But over time I learned to accept all this about myself because self-loathing is bad, and now I love myself just the way I am."
A few months ago I wrote an article about being a pick-up artist for a site that features a lot of essays like these, and I was crucified in the comments section for being vain, pathologically narcissistic, and possibly sociopathic. Most heavily, the comments focused on my body. I had been asked to submit some photos to go with my writing, so I sent in a few that I thought cheekily summed me up: me on set during a photo shoot with my band (we have a show at Mercury Lounge on March 29th, come check us out), me baking cupcakes semi-naked for Driven By Boredom, etc. I didn't think much of it at the time. But when I began to see the feedback slowly filter in on my article, there were slews of women speaking up who didn't take any of my pre-pickup insecurities seriously, nor did they give any credit to my accomplishments, because I was a skinny, moderately pretty white girl.
Last night I ended up in conversation with an acquaintance, a man in his 50s who is very sweet but not what you'd call attractive. "How can I get a girl who looks like you?" he asked me. I thought for a moment, and finally I said, "First of all, the cuffs on your shirt are ripped, and there's a stain down the front. You didn't shave this morning, and probably not yesterday either. You need new pants; they're worn thin and they smell bad. You need to work out more regularly; not only is your body out of shape, but when you move it looks like it takes you a lot of effort. What does your home look like? Is it neat? Is it inviting? Can you cook? A woman wants a man who takes care of himself. If you can't take care of yourself, how are you going to take care of her?" He fumed slightly and said with a huff, "Well, we didn't all win the genetic lottery like you did!"
You see where all this is going? This assumption that I just got lucky somehow and therefore I should shut up and stop acting like anything I do is a deliberately mastered skill set which you can also master as well if you put in the same effort?
SO, FINE, WORLD! YOU WANT IT? HERE. HERE IS A PICTURE OF ME WHEN I WAS FAT:
This is the last photo I have of me from that time. I destroyed the others. This was a time before camera-phones, definitely way before iphones, and I'm grateful for that. It's also probably one of the only photos I have from that time because it is one of the most flattering -- the above was not as bad as it got. I would estimate that I was about 30-40lbs heavier than I am now. True, I was never obese, but the girl baking the cupcakes did not win a genetic lottery. (I was going to make a joke about the winning ticket going to Adriana Lima, but that would be kind of the same snarking I received myself, right? I don't actually know how much of Adriana's looks is luck and how much is hard work. I'm sure she must put in effort somewhere.)
To the man who suggested I won the genetic lottery, I replied, "Actually, I work out every day. I take parkour classes twice a week and on the other days I condition and walk everywhere. I feel guilty if I eat anything other than sushi or an organic salad wrap from Chop't. I use eye cream, moisturizer, and collagen serum on my face every morning and night, dry oil on my legs, plus exfoliant and a facial mask in the bath a couple times a week. I wash and condition my hair with non-SLS products, and I have had all body hair below my waist painfully blasted off with lasers. I spent three months of my life with suction cups attached to my mosquito-bite-sized double-A cups in order to get them to a passable B so I could actually bra-shop in the United States. I get gel manicures every two weeks and paint my toes myself. I spend at least 30 minutes on my daily makeup routine. And amidst all that, I found the time to write a fucking book, start a fucking company, and form a fucking band. You want a woman like me? Step the fuck up to the plate."
This is me doing parkour, one year after I took it up.
This took a lot of fucking work.
I'm pissed at this notion that complacency passes as self-acceptance ("I'm sooo glad I no longer give into the mainstream media's shaming and unfeminist pressure to be thin!"), and that anyone who dares to do anything extraordinary (unless it's something "brave" like being a BBW porn star or trying out a night at a strip club in order to write a thesis for your gender studies class) is shamed for self-aggrandizement. Think about it. What are we here on earth for, if not for the aggrandizement of our selves, so that we can all lead and inspire one another and collectively as a human race do awesome stuff?
I signed up a few months ago for Neil Strauss's The Society apprenticeship, which means I get access to video content of the seminars put together live for the members of The Society, a small, select group of men for whom Neil facilitates self-improvement education for both personal and professional development. I've watched talks not only on pickup but on time management, charisma, body language, persuasion, voice and speech, being a person who adds value to the world, and finding out what you're most passionate about and how to do it -- all from top authors and experts in their given fields. Membership is currently closed, otherwise I would share these videos with all the PUA haters I get snark from. I only wish they could see what amazing work is happening in these people's lives right now.
And the tagline for the group, the slogan that appears at the beginning of every video, is:
These are our lives, guys. Who do you want to be while you're here? What do you want to do? Are you doing it? If not, well why the fuck aren't you?
If you were here with me on my bed as I type this (and if you were, you would have to be a guy or girl who had indeed stepped the fuck up to the plate, as my bed is currently reserved for awesome people only), you would notice that my brow is furrowing and my gel manicured fingertips are striking the keys angrily as I type. I'd love to say that I'm here to be all happy Tony Robbins and inspire you, but the truth is that I am feeling much more like Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross:
It is probably relevant here that David Mamet was one of my guest teachers in college.
I found this clip in the article Six Harsh Truths That Will Make You A Better Person on Cracked.com, and if you haven't read it yet (I tweeted it like fifty zillion times), click on it -- it will open in a new window -- and read it as soon as you're done reading this post. What its author points out that is so brilliant about Alec Baldwin's scene is how polarizing it is: by the end of the scene, you are either thinking, "That guy is a fucking asshole," or you're thinking, "Fuck yeah, let's go make some sales!"
If you're in the former camp, I'll go ahead and make it easy for you: Yes, you are right, I was born pretty and thin and my entire body of work as a seduction coach is just a chance to brag about how lucky I am. Close out this browser tab right now, we're done.
If you're ready to make changes to your life not only for your own satisfaction but also as part of your duty as a human being to contribute something, anything, that is meaningful, beautiful, thoughtful, or inspiring to the rest of the world, then I am with you all the way. I will stand the fuck by you and we will do this together.
I get angry, and also deeply sad, mournful even, when I write about things like this, because I have had so many painful experiences with people who not only accepted their own failure but brought me down with them, people close to me whose irresponsibility for their own lives greatly endangered my own. The obvious example is my ex-boyfriend who owned Rapture, the dungeon where I worked as a pro-domme, who didn't prepare for the possibility that it might one day be busted by the NYPD and who, after his arrest, came to me begging for $25k (pretty much all I had to my name) to pay for the legal defense to keep him out of jail, swearing he'd make it his life's mission to pay me back. It'll be five years this September and I've seen $350 of that money.
A less obvious example, one I have gracefully kept quiet for a long time, is that of my former best friend who was my roommate for just over a year, a woman who fancied herself a glamorous jetsetter in pricey lingerie, who was always spending money on the best hotels and newest season AP. Many people ask me what happened to my friendship with her. The answer is that she moved out hastily, and three months later I came home to an eviction notice on my door telling me to be out of my apartment within five days. She had bounced six months' worth of rent checks to our landlord. I had to hire a tenant lawyer to sort things out, and by the end of the ordeal the legal fees and rent arrears totalled up to another five-figure sum. To twist the knife a little deeper, my housing court date fell on the morning of my book release party for The New Rules Of Attraction. I think it is also telling that while living with this woman, who complained of struggles with her weight, I would periodically go into the freezer to find entire tubs of the frozen cookie dough I saved for baking rock concert cookies wholly eaten and put back empty.
I'm reminded of Alec Baldwin's line in that speech: "I can go out there tonight with the materials you've got and make myself fifteen thousand dollars. Tonight! In two hours. Can you?"
That's the thing. I don't have any advantage that most people I encounter in my daily life don't also have. I wasn't born with Adriana Lima's body, I don't have a trust fund, I don't have a powerful family who opened doors into the world of business, media, publishing, or entertainment for me. I do have a great and supportive mom and stepdad who made sure I got a good education. Beyond that? My starting stats were pretty goddamn average.
This is again polarizing: If you felt motivated after listening to Alec Baldwin, you should feel encouraged right now. I don't have anything in me that you don't also have in you, other than a mother-fuck-ton of grit and determination, and that means that whatever you envy or admire or snark about in me is also something you yourself can achieve. If on the other hand you think Alec Baldwin's an asshole, you will continue to make excuses, bitch about some privilege I must be unaware of, or write me off as a narcissist and tell yourself that you would never pay the high price I have paid of becoming such a piece of shit for doing what I do. Because that is infinitely easier than admitting that you are capable of the same things but just too lazy to actually do them.
And maybe it's better that you don't, for your own sake. There are many, many times that I wish I could be okay with the possibility of gaining 10lbs, or dipping substantially into my savings without completely freaking out, or thinking about the world at large and the next ten years in front of me in which I will have no job security or 401k and likely a steadily dwindling physical attractiveness. I might be happier if I could be okay with being a girl who worked at a Pizzeria Uno in suburban Pennsylvania.
I was at Neil's house with some people for a week last summer. I can't tell you much about it because I signed an NDA. But one bit of conversation which I think no one will mind my recounting was this: One of the other guys was presenting some stuff about his life, and Neil asked him, "If life isn't about being worthy, about being good enough, then what is it about?"
And I said, "Wait... you mean it's not?? You guys, wait you guys, hold the phone here for a second --"
Last weekend I wrote two new blog posts and shot a new lingerie campaign. Then the Oscars came on television and everything I have ever done felt pointless. The moment I master a skill I'm no longer impressed by it, so ultimately I never feel I'm any good at anything that matters. There's always something better on the horizon.
And the most heartbreaking part about all of this is that no matter how much you strive for that ephemeral brass ring, no matter how awesome and self-actualized you become, there will always be people who will hurt you. This is the crucial flaw in my work, its fatal weakness: that no matter how much you control the factors on your side of the equation, you can never account for the behavior of others, because -- SAY IT WITH ME EVERYONE -- a.) nobody is obligated to love you just because you did everything right and b.) just because someone loves you doesn't mean they're going to treat you well. There will be people who don't prepare for the coming winter, who will pull you under the bus with them in their panic, who will need you to spring their asses from jail, who will leave you in the hospital on your birthday, who will expect you to front their half of rent just so you can keep your own damn roof over your head, who will eat all your cookie dough without telling you so that just hours before the rock concert where you need homemade cookies to pawn your way backstage you will find nothing but an empty container.
And whenever that happens, if you're like me you will channel your hurt and your anger into something like a new blog post or a screenplay draft or a rock band or parkour or MMA, because fuck those people, to the point where your bestie will bust on you and say, "You can learn to jump over stuff and punch people but it's not going to keep them from breaking your heart."
This post is not a brag but a plea. I'm tired. I'm tired of being the person that everyone calls for help or a loan or a bailout of some kind. I'm tired of men in stained shirts who wonder why they can't get a girl like me. I'm tired of having to hustle twice as hard to survive because people close to me feel entitled to what's mine. I'm tired of guys who text at 3am when they're drunk instead of calling at 8pm to make plans. I'm tired of always being the person who facilitates the difficult relationship conversations and holds space for a person's needs. I would like just once for someone to ask me what I need, what I would like, what would make me happy, and maybe just take that in for a second. I need the rest of the world to step the fuck up to the plate with me and take care of themselves so that maybe one day they can also take care of someone else.
So. Put down your failure, your fucking excuses, and do this with me, okay? The more of us who commit to taking responsibility for ourselves, our lives, and our successes, the more awesome people there will be in the world, and the more awesome relationships there will be as those awesome people pair up into two's (or three's or four's, or whatever floats their boats). You will all be making my job easier, and there will be overall less snarking for everybody, and the world will be a better place. And that's what we're here for, after all.