See and Be Seen

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One of the things I loved about Costa Rica was that it was definitely not the place to see and be seen. Women weren’t dressed to the nines and dripping with diamonds. The men didn’t feel compelled to hide their protruding bellies under bespoke suits. It was extremely refreshing to be in a luxury environment where everyone wasn’t trying to one up everyone else in terms of perfect highlights and the most noticeable designer labels—not that this is the only way to see and be seen, of course, but it’s certainly prominent almost everywhere you go.

My husband, Michael, gets mad at me for staring at high-end cars as they drive down the road—invariably by a middle-aged or older man who is usually bald. Michael tells me that I’m giving them exactly what they want with my attention, and that I shouldn’t reward such blatant efforts to be seen by looking. It’s an interesting idea. I have a very close friend who dated a guy with a Porsche 911 that had a license plate that said, “Not True.” Apparently he wasn’t lying, but you have to ask yourself why he felt compelled to tell everyone. But I digress. Again.

There are lots of ways we fulfill what appears to be a basic human desire to be seen, and to be recognized. I was talking to my boss, the high-level Defense Department guy, about some women we saw walking down the street in Las Vegas wearing not very much. He wondered why they dressed that way (apparently, he really didn’t understand—sigh).  I explained that I used to dress that way when I was younger because I wanted men to look at me (women too, but for different reasons). He seemed perplexed by that, probably because he’s never really seen that side of me. Many of us dress to impress—it’s the only reason for short skirts and sky-high pumps. Not to mention wife beaters.  On the other hand, as the great costume designer, Edith Head noted, if it’s not pretty, cover it up. Unfortunately, there are way too may folks out there who really don’t understand this concept. As Karen Marie Moning would say, muffin top and camel toe—Gah!! In addition to all the posturing we undertake to be noticed, there’s a whole range of sexually stimulating practices that progress from voyeurism to exhibitionism. These tendencies are explored by Gwenvael and Dagmar from G.A. Aiken’s Dragon Kin series. They both like to watch. And, it turns out, they both like the potential danger of discovery to add a dash of spice to already white-hot sex. The multimillion dollar porn industry is a testament to how deeply the voyeuristic current runs beneath our culture. Hey, our fascination Miley’s twerking ass is a monument to our willingness to watch, and enjoy—although sometimes we put a fig leaf of self-righteous anger over our enjoyment, lest anyone suspect the naked hunger with which we participate in these voyeuristic daydreams. And I’ll definitely cop to the other side of that coin and admit to engaging in a few public displays of affection, if you know what I mean. I’ll skip the specific longitude and latitude, in case anyone was inclined to show up and actually watch, but my husband and I have been known to frolic occasionally in some very public places. Except for the need for some uncomfortable contortions, it can be quite fun.

And all of this looking and being looked at (like switching the view on my iPhone camera) is all around us now. Instagram and Snapchat allow us to document our lives and watch the progression of those of our friends in living color. I’m not sure what it means that we have become both the subjects and the objects of our own voyeuristic exhibitionist fantasies--but I’m sure I’ll explore that in another post (kind of brings to mind the man from Nantucket—who needs anyone else?)

We cry out for attention—look at me, look at me--and then we act like the dog that caught the car and go into full on-retreat, because we don’t actually want anyone to see us. No way. Not if we’re going to bare ourselves completely. So, we want to see and be seen, but only the parts we’ve deemed acceptable for public viewing, as a friend of mine once described her new, surgically improved mid-section. So we go back to hiding our true selves and projecting only what we want people to see.

And that’s assuming anyone is even looking. Because what these new opportunities for exhibitionism are doing is significantly diluting the view. There’s so much to see these days that we are forced to go to extremes to get anyone’s attention. And I don’t care if no one ever pays attention to me again; I’m not wearing a dress made out of bacon.

All of this voyeurism and exhibitionism leads to thinking about the kinds of looks and lookers we’re attracting. When we resort to hyperbole to catch the light, it’s only the sparkle of a cubic zirconia. Not real.  Inauthentic. Not for me, thanks. I’m interested in the light that reflects off real diamonds—brilliant, white-hot, and mesmerizing. That’s how I want to see and be seen. I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.