The Expectations of Performance in Public Spaces
Posted by Bella Rosa
I woke up feeling heartsick today. Not only did I sleep in beyond what I’m comfortable with–10:30 am–I had bad dreams. Dreams of isolation and emergency. Moving a family out of my home and to safety, avoiding cameras and such along the way so they couldn’t be tracked. These dreams are typical for me…often I’m in a position to protect others, to usher them to something better. But today it just felt different.
It felt like there was this expectation. “This is what you do, Janet, so you better perform as expected.” It’s an icky feeling actually. What if I don’t feel capable today? What if I have other priorities or responsibilities? What if I get it wrong or don’t do well enough? What if I fail?
My entire life has been dictated by this requirement of established public performance. I am plagued by being a people pleaser–if it will make others happy I will jump into action before thinking of the impact it has on myself. If people -need- me to do something I will sacrifice myself and my own needs to accomplish it.
This is a chronic problem with me. Constantly pushing past my own boundaries, or worse not even recognizing my own boundaries, in order to please others.
Nowhere is this more evident than in my online life. I always intend to be authentic, to be the me that I know and am growing to love; but often I find myself either holding back or rising to the level of prior performance that my followers have grown to expect from me.
But it’s a persona. Whatever others see in me is a projection of an image that bears my likeness but none of my hurt. A 2D Bella that is meant to entice without giving too much away. Carefully crafted to be pleasing to the greatest number of people, a number that keeps growing, and thus reinforcing the utility of that image.
I am coming to terms with the fact that I don’t feel as sexy as the projection displays. Sure there is some confidence about my skill level–I have had an immense amount of practice (although less so in recent years) during my lifetime. I know I’m good enough at the actual act of sex. Likewise, I also know that as a bigger and older woman, that fewer people will find me attractive or sexy, so I deliberately highlight the few physical and mental assets I do have and leave the rest to chance. Ultimately, my natural pragmatism recognizes the likelihood that I’m a placeholder for a fantasy to be fulfilled by those more physically and logistically able.
The one thing I’m good at, like really good at, is connecting with people from a place of vulnerability. My “bravery” is off the charts in that regard. I can talk about my rape, talk about being outed, talk about not feeling good enough. Life events that are instructive and important. It hurts, but in the way that muscles hurt after a competition. And like a performance or a competition, I give those connections my all because if my vulnerability can help someone else, the soreness, the hurt and the courage will be worth it.
But it’s still a performance and not fully me. On Twitter or FetLife and even Facebook, I’m constantly “on”. Trying to craft an image that is both wise and flirtatious; free and enticing. I put a specific part of myself on display, shielding the rest from view. And it’s exhausting to maintain that persona, especially when real life is getting me down.
I find myself missing the days of LiveJournal, when my public persona more directly matched my private self. There was better integration on that space for me, a fuller and more authentic me that hadn’t yet been scared by the impact of being outed. I maintain a lot of those friendships today because I feel like those followers, more than anyone else, had gotten to know and cherish the real me. And beyond that–found the real me to be worthy and valuable.
And perhaps right now I’m just reacting to the cognitive confusion of coming back to online interactions that moved on without me. I missed the boat with Snapchat and Tinder weirds me out. I’ve been trying to establish myself in worlds that I abandoned and isolated myself from. I’ve always kept a toe in these worlds–maintained a presence on Twitter, FetLife and Facebook but cracks formed in the face of that persona. Too much hurt, too much pain, too much reality to maintain the presence of the sexy girl that I know people want to see. I feel like a squeaky mouse trying to put herself out there saying “look at me, I’m important too”.
But I realize how much of this public persona, this people-pleasing and the expectation to perform for the public sets me up to compete with other women. I’m not as pretty as they are, not as sexy, not as smart, not as playful, not as overtly confident. It’s hard to feel like me or even my persona can stand up against them.
They say comparison is the thief of joy. And I am stealing away the joy I feel at connecting with others on these online platforms by constantly comparing, constantly putting on a performance, all because I’m trying to shield myself from feeling good enough for the attention available. In the end, I care more about attention for my message than for me personally. And that message is always there no matter what the perception of my persona vs my real self.
In the end, the only performance that really matters is the effort and energy I give my message, not the pleasure I give to others.
Or so I tell myself for now.
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