They say in order to be successful on Instagram, you have to post photos within a “brand” - not like brands of products, although some of the big time influencers will do that. This is more like boundaries of ideas that you create so that followers can routinely enjoy your photos. The tighter you stick to this brand, the better you will do on Instagram.
I had decided that my brand would be a mix of humor, inspiration, and a whole lot of nakedness. These aspects are all true to my real life. I am a goofy guy who strives to be optimistic and likes to take his clothes off. But it probably makes my Instagram inconsistently consistent - or consistently inconsistent. I can’t figure out which one.
Either way, I don’t want to look narcissistic or self obsessed - which is ironic when you post nothing but photos of yourself (and your dog on a rare occasion). Therefore I try to balance out the fleshy photos with something not-so-naked approximately every other post.
I want people to know that I am more than just flesh. While I certainly do enjoy bringing the flesh, I have a brain too - which I guess is also technically flesh but you know what I mean. I don’t want to become a mere sexual object to everyone. My writing is often just as naked as I am and I love it when people get that.
Stripping down to tell transparent stories has come to mean a lot to me. If I can simultaneously take my clothes off and open up people’s minds, then I have done my work for the day (aside from that damn book I’m trying to write). Since sex sells, I might as well help sell some introspective food for thought.
And recently I tried offering up some extra “fleshy food for thought” on World AIDS Day. I posted a stockpile photo of me removing my shirt - revealing a red ribbon on my chest ala Superman style. The sexy shot has always gotten a powerful response and this year was no exception. My followers liked it.
A few days later, I posted an essay on the blog inspired by World AIDS Day - a story about a surprising sneak-attack of my struggle with my own HIV status ten years later. That got a great response too. Life was good. I was creating universal awareness through sharing my vulnerable photos and personal tales (rather than just my tail).
Then, nearly a month after the Instagram post with the red ribbon, another user posted this comment on the red ribbon photo: “If you play with fire, you get burned. And even after that, you still sexualize yourself. Stereotype.”
Of course, this comment took me back. However, the thing that really surprised me wasn’t what he wrote, but rather what I wrote back to him. I said… absolutely nothing. I didn’t write anything back. I didn’t respond at all. This is not typical of me.
I often admit that I struggle to be one of those people who simply “don’t give a fuck.” Honestly, I don’t think those people actually exist all that often anyway. The only person I’ve ever witnessed to TRULY not give a fuck is that old man who goes to the mall wearing sweat shorts and knee high black socks with sandals. No joke - I legitimately admire that guy.
Of course, I wanted to give a fuck when this guy posted that comment. The insinuation that I deserved my HIV diagnosis because I continue to act like a “stereotype” has a certain sting to it. I wanted to write some hyper-intelligent epic burn that would totally make him gravel for the HIV communities’ forgiveness.
But this was nothing new. We’ve all dealt with online haters and I’ve already written about a particular encounter on this blog before. At that time, my partner was the one who told me to just let it go. He tends to be the angel on my left shoulder who combats the devil on my right - which is really just my Freudian desires to punch stupid people in the face.
With this more recent hateful HIV comment, my brain did start to run through all the different heroic things I could say to this man. But I stopped myself. This time, I somehow instinctively knew to let it go. Not bad for a guy who’s therapist once officially gave him the unofficial diagnosis of being “thin-skinned.” Though I wasn’t sure exactly how I did this.
I wanted to figure out how exactly I came to letting it go so easily. But first, I figured I’d try an experiment. I decided to publish a screenshot of his comment on my Instagram story (for the non-IG-users, that’s a section of content that only lasts for 24 hours).
I published the shot twice. The first one pointed out the comment with the note “OUCH” attached. Then, with the second shot, I added a statement: “Everyone has the right to a healthy sexual self esteem… regardless of their age, gender, body type, or HIV status!”
Okay, so doing this technically doesn’t look like I had let it go at all. The exclamation point certainly didn’t help either. But it was meant as a passionate punctuation to express a sense of enthusiastic optimism. As I told a few of the folks who wrote in on the Instagram Story: I just wanted to take something negative that someone put out in the universe… and turn it around to put something positive out into the universe.
I didn’t care if the guy saw it. I wanted people to see it. I want to raise awareness about how attitudes like this still exist in the world. In the day of undetectable status and PrEP, it seems like hardly anyone thinks like this anymore. But they do. They still lurk around in shadows waiting to pop out at any moment and make you feel like shit for having sex or having a disease. And perhaps “letting it go” didn’t necessarily need to be synonymous with being quiet about it.
After doing this Instagram Story, something else surprising happened. I went from ignoring this guy’s comments to actually being glad that he wrote it. With having the opportunity to post it, I really did catch people's attention and got over a hundred messages of unwavering support and kind words back. It showed me that for every negative butthole out there, there are a hundred people who are waiting to show their love.
It also gave me a sense of grace with this guy. People who attack others online probably don’t lead happy lives. Happy people don’t need to write terrible things to others so that they can feel superior about themselves. And thus I genuinely felt bad for him - although he probably couldn’t give two shits.
This little experiment was teaching me the value of what can happen when you respond with thicker skin. By writing something positive for everyone else, my energy was spent feeling better about myself for what I said... than feeling dumpy about the negative thing this other guy said.
Then it hit me: the reason why I was able to let it go. Since pursuing my dream of becoming an independent writer, things have become incredibly stressful. Writing a book, maintaining a blog, and managing social media gets super overwhelming. And it takes a long LONG time before it’ll ever pay off.
So, in order to combat this stress, I’ve been practicing a little mental health trick that almost everyone (who has been to a therapist) already knows about. I have been keeping a “gratitude journal.” Every night, before I go to bed, I write down ten things I am grateful for. You’re supposed to do it when you first wake up too. But it’s hard enough for me to not just crawl around on the floor and drool in the morning - let alone write in a journal.
I know doing a gratitude journal sounds fairly hoaky. But it’s amazing the terrible things we can tell ourselves when instant success doesn’t land in our laps. So, even if it feels totally dumb, practicing gratitude and self love, like this, can help us see the awesome things we might be missing.
These practices have been legitimately helping my brain. Even though I’m continuing to run out of money, I still feel encouraged to keep working hard and finish writing the book (which will hopefully be the first of many).
But what I didn’t expect was that this new energy would spooge over into other areas in my life. Because I have been getting more solid in liking myself, I didn’t really care about what this guy had said. Yes, I am HIV positive. And yes, stripping down helps me connect with my audience in a fun way (it also helps me deal with my body image issues). Whether he understood all that or not... was none of my business.
Perhaps this whole gratitude journal thing is a solution for thin-skin. What other people think or say about us doesn’t feel as aggravating when we are grateful for what we have and *GASP* actually like ourselves. Besides, hating on the haters won’t make the haters hate any less. But maybe a little love will.
Of course, having thin-skin is a lot like having HIV. The remedy needs a multifaceted approach. We can take our little (big) pill and we can write down our little (big) thanks, but there’s other health and wellness needed to REALLY make this work. And like HIV, thin-skin lies dormant... waiting for the chance that we might somehow fuck up our treatment.
In the end, I don’t have any plans to tone down the naked part of my brand on Instagram. Nor do I have plans to ramp it up. I am perfectly happy with how it is, regardless of one man’s nasty comments. I like feeling good about my body even if it makes me look like a silly ho. And I like encouraging others to try and feel the same about themselves - at least about the way they see their body (not necessarily the "silly ho" part).
Then, not even a week after that user posted his ill-intended comment, I got a private message from someone else. It said, “A ‘writer’ that only has body shots? So confused by these selfie accounts. Are you inspired by nothing more [than] narcissistic photos of yourself?”
I did decide to respond to this one - differently than I ever have with a hater. First, I invited him to read my writing. Then I told him that he had a handsome profile photo. Then I told him it was cool that he was an architect. Then I told him that I hoped he enjoyed living in Minneapolis - that I always heard great things about it. Then I took my pollyanna ass to the gym and didn’t give it a second thought.
Edited by Glen Trupp
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