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The Best Advice: Tits Out!

I’ve always loved a good mentor. For as long as I’ve taken an active roll in populating my social circle, for as long as I’ve courted interesting people rather than just settling for the closest and easiest, I have had great appreciation for anyone who demands that I be better than I am. From these relationships I’ve taken many lessons, but of those many lessons, one, more than all the rest, has shaped my latest self. The best advice I have ever received, which—cryptically enough—is the title of this blog post, was given to me about seven years ago by a good and patient friend of mine, Leigh Fullmer.

At that time, I was a mess of low self-esteem. Fidgety and quick to retreat from even the most low-stakes social interactions, I saw myself as fundamentally misunderstood. Although I had made some progress from the endless mortification that was high school, I was still one of those people who is visibly uncomfortable in his own skin.  I felt mismatched and bulgy in everything I wore, and I seemed to humiliate myself with every attempt at humor or social grace. However, every once in a while, I’d experience a flash of what I thought of as my “authentic self.” During one of my flashes, I’d manage to stop thinking those many parallel thoughts: Do I look more natural with my arms crossed like this or at my side like this? Is this shirt too small? What about these pants? Too baggy? Oh, god, did I just say something stupid? Was that observation as brilliant as I think it was? Better not cover it up with a joke; no one will laugh anyway. When I let myself off the hook for those brief moments, my otherwise relentless awkwardness abated, and I could socialize like even the most enthusiastic of extroverts. But then the wrong person would walk into the room, or I’d catch sight of myself reflected in a window, and I’d be knocked out of that shaky “authenticity” and back into my graceless daily self.

I must have been bemoaning that recurrent disappointment—a cycle of which I was an obvious and helpless victim—when Leigh interrupted me to explain something that, as a gay man, I had little direct experience with: tits. As she explained it, when a woman feels shitty about her body, the first thing she does is curve her shoulders forward, a defensive posture that effectively hides the body within the body. The thinking goes: if they can’t see it, they can’t judge it. However, the ironic consequence of this imperfect invisibility is that it makes even the most conventionally gorgeous women look shapeless and insecure. Instead, she explained, if a woman “puts her tits out”—really arches her spine and pulls her shoulders back—even a woman to whom little has been given can make an impressive showing. Having explained the principle, she gave a demonstration, and yes, indeed, the technique is effective: tits out look better than tits in. It didn’t take much to realize that this can be a psychological as well as physical attitude. For the rest of the afternoon, Leigh and I practiced being tits out, as the two of us diva-stomped the streets of Santa Cruz.

This point is, of course, uncontroversial to the point of banality: confidence is sexy. Even the larger corollary (easy realization: the body is a metonym for the full self) is hardly revolutionary: measured confidence is the sine qua non of charisma. However, for me, tits out linked up with a whole constellation of vague impressions that I was too scared to believe, impressions that had an uncomfortable affect on my idea of an “authentic self.” At it’s most basic level, tits out is a confession. It says, “This is all that I am. There is nothing left, nothing buried or hidden. No matter how wonderful it would be if I were, I am no Clark Kent.” There is no split self, no easy transformation, no secret angle from which the perfectness of me is visible. What I was confusing for authenticity were just moments in which I was finally acting like the kind of person I aspired to be. “Aspirational” and “authentic” are dangerous qualities to confuse because while one is earned, the other is deserved. My entire life I had waited for people—friends, loved ones, teachers—to unlock this better self, but in truth, it wasn’t anyone else’s job to facilitate me becoming the person I’d always wanted to be.

When I was an undergrad, one of my professors unpacked the impossibility of a very basic instruction: “Be yourself.” In her opinion, this sentence verged on the nonsensical, both linguistically and philosophically. If someone must instruct me to “be myself,” then I am for the moment not myself, but how exactly can I be anything but myself? If, “I am myself,” can be rendered as, “A is A,” then, “Be yourself,” must be rendered, “A ought to be, but is not, A.”  “Myself,” as a word and a concept AND a set, consists of everything that I am, so what can I do or be that lies outside of everything that I am?

“Be yourself,” assumes that we each have some best, truest version, an ideal self toward which we strive. “Be yourself,” regardless of who says it, internalizes all of the worst covert societal pressures. It means, “You are supposed to be other than you are,” or, in the worst case, “Be the person I want you to be because you are falling short of my expectations for you.” In an insidious and supremely dishonest way, it wields selfhood like a weapon. Tits out is a rejection of and (an admittedly partial) defense against all that. In some way that boggles my mind just a little bit, tits out does double duty: it recognizes and forgives what is, while simultaneously offering the possibility of a solution to what, in the moment, feels like an unsolvable problem.

(This whole post reeks of self-help who-ha, wu-wu, but it’s what I’m thinking about, right now, so please forgive me. My life in Korea is all about the tits out approach.)

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3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Rhymes with moose #

    At the camp I am now working for they have a 4 part code of common sense which is what makes up the bulk of their rules philosophy etc… 1) pay attention 2) be truly helpful 3) respect and my favorite part 4) you/we are doing it wrong, do it better.
    Their idea with the last part is that if people have some set idea of who they are and how they do something, that they have mastered things, then they stagnate. Their most awesome core member, the guy who can start a fire with a bow drill in 3 seconds could be better. And in that we are all learning, we can all learn more so we all all equal in some giddy strange way that they actually implement because everyone one there actually wants to be learning and teaching constantly. Kind of a tits out place. The only taboo is to say this is all I am or ever will be….don’t look at me.

    June 13, 2012
    • Dude, I love #4! What a great philosophy to instill in kids… Hell, to instill in adults!

      Have I mentioned that I think you’re going to someday end up running/owning an alternative kids camp/school? Because that is totally going to happen.

      June 13, 2012

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