Last November, I stood dressed in my tattered skivvies for Molly Crabapple. She sat on the floor with her legs folded under her looking like a wayward flower-seller. She drew me, pausing periodically to hold up her brush mathematically to capture the angle of my arm or my thigh. We talked about the healthcare debate and academic life, and when I tipped a pot of ink over onto her carpet, she was kind. I blotted up the mess, and she said the shadow blotch added character.
Two of these illustrations are now available on t-shirts. You can buy them at Fred Segal, if you live in LA; you can buy them at Atrium starting in mid-June, if you live in Gotham; and if you live otherwhere, you can buy them online. I have bought one of each of the t-shirts myself so that I can wear myself in stereo. I can, from time to time, endorse my own narcissism, a quality I like to rebrand á la Gala Darling as a tepid flavor of radical self-love. (I can’t quite call my self-love radical; it remains timid as weasels and twice as unpredictable.)
Molly’s drawing of me called “Strut” by Dirtee Hollywood is at the framing shop. Soon it’ll sit bright and shiny and new on one of my old and dingy walls. It’s art, and I love it, and I know few people who can say that they have adorned Fival Stewart’s chest. I have, or an image of me has, anyway. I am one degree of separation away from Twilight franchise teen-tart tit. Che Guevara and I now have something in common, presumably.
Make no mistake about it: posing for an artist is gratifying in profound ways. It’s fantastic to stand for five or ten minutes, to take pride in holding a pose, to feel your muscles quiver tight as a racehorse, to keep your chin tilted just so, to hold tight and hold tighter, and to see at the end yourself represented through someone else’s gifted eyes and talented hand. I’ve modeled for artists only a few times in my life, and I’ve never felt anything but a rarified form of aerie elation. It’s a bit high-making, in all honesty. It beats drugs because rather than a hangover and a headache, you inevitably get a lovely two-dimensional parting gift rolled in your hand.
Which is to say, in short, that there is joy in being an object. I have loved the slipping feeling of turning into a thing and losing my being. I spent so many years as a stripper in a happy vague state of bland awareness, and I enjoyed much of that time. Consciousness is a curse, I’ve often felt, and felt keenly, bright and sharp and shiny as an expensive German knife. My consciousness has often been unkind; it has lit my life in the unforgiving gaze of overhead fluorescent lighting. I have been grateful for the Lethean waters of objectification.
Though I’ve not known why until recently. At the beginning of March, a team of researchers from the New School for Social Research released their findings from a study of objectification of women. The study, as reported widely on the web, suggested that women are objectified, their cognitive abilities falter. The researchers suggest that this decrease in cognitive function is due to a splitting of self—an awareness both of oneself as viewed and as viewing one’s self being viewed—and that this splitting of consciousness makes it, well, hard to think.
Objectification is hard, let’s go shopping.
The research leaves a lot to be desired. For one thing, it acts as if women’s objectification of women is inconsequential. For another, it acts as if women’s objectification of men doesn’t exist. It also studied only 25 women, and the methods of the study—filming women from the neck down, asking them to fill out a questionnaire about their own self-objectification, and then subjecting them to cognitive tests—seem to this layperson to be a bit fragmented. There’s no question that the study leaves a lot to be desired before we take it as anything more than an interesting cocktail niblet.
And yet. My experience as a professional is that there is a delightful slip-sliding of self that happens during an attenuated moment of objectification. I can’t speak for all strippers across all time, but I can say that one of the things I most treasured about becoming CiCi (at least in the first few years) was how much it made my mind go blissfully blank. I felt like a silver screen, a blank spot for the projection of fantasies, and I liked it. I called it "my blonde lobotomy," and I still hold it close with nostalgia, even as it cloys with the scent of too much perfume and tanning lotion.
I miss that blonde blandness. Granted, not all the time—and certainly that was one of the many reasons why CiCi died that long slow death; I grew to resent the object-becoming, I fought the fugue, and I stayed more solidly myself—but when I’m with my lover, I like to be an object. I like to feel my mind go blank, white and flat, clean as a clean sheet of paper. Ready to be drawn upon, or merely drawn.
I write today as I wrote yesterday as I will write tomorrow as a feminist. Yet I can’t say that there isn’t value in being objectified, in losing yourself to those sublime blank moments. The problem isn’t becoming an object; it’s staying one. That’s what I’ve learned from my time in two dimensions. You can choose to be three-D in a shiny neuro-second. In a moment, you can take back your presence. I’d be interested to see these sociologists study a passel of strippers. I’ve no doubt they could turn off and on the objectification faster than a strobe light
These are object lessons, and they’re illustrative. Pretty pictures don’t tell the whole story, neither being one nor making one. Speaking as a sentient carbon-based life-form with an insatiable need for lip-gloss, I quite like being an object from time to time, even if I enjoy being a fully embodied person most of the time. Nothing is either good nor bad but thinking makes it so.