I was in a friend’s dorm room with a bunch of people, most of whom I didn’t know very well. A very attractive girl I’d never met came in with a guy I assumed was her boyfriend. She was very excited, because a magazine had just published her “work.” She was a holding a copy of the magazine and handed it to one of the people sitting there.
At this point in the story I feel it’s important to mention that the magazine was what is often referred to as a “nudie magazine,” and her “work” was posing in the nude for photographs. At the risk of being labeled “sex-negative,” I have to admit that I was truly at a loss as to how to address this contingency socially.
The group, which was composed of both young men and young women, passed around the magazine and vocally admired her work. The women were especially lavish in their praise, gushing over the pictures and how good she looked in them. I was last in line for the magazine, a fact I appreciated for the extra time it gave me to formulate a plan of action.
But when my turn came, I was still lost, adrift on a sea of anxiety, stuck in a pickle that would’ve confounded Miss Manners herself. Even in everyday situations, my behavior generally ranges from somewhat awkward to curl-up-and-die awkward. I’ve even given myself a nickname: Captain Awkward.
So believe me when I tell you that the awkwardness of this particular moment was off the charts. In a life filled with awkward moments, this one immediately ascended into my personal pantheon of excruciatingly painful awkward moments.
I took the magazine and paused. Before I continue, let me assure you that, in that instant, it honestly seemed rude not to look. So I flipped through her pictorial. If I were to describe those nude photos, the word “tasteful” would figure prominently, although perhaps not as prominently as the adverb-adjective pair “eerily mundane.” The pictures didn’t even seem particularly erotic to me. She wasn’t posed suggestively, unless she was trying to suggest the relentless good cheer of a beauty pageant contestant.
She was smiling broadly in every photo and standing confidently, though a tad stiffly, like a cheerleader posing for a senior portrait. Every pose seemed to say, “Hi there! I’m not wearing a top! What’s new with you?” or “I’m in a nudie magazine yet I still seem well-adjusted. Pleased to meetcha!” The target demographic was apparently men who fantasize about having sex with future HR middle-management types, real go-getters.
I flipped through them as quickly as I could. But I didn’t want to look like I was just going through the motions. Nor did I want to linger over them too long for fear of appearing inappropriately enamored of her naked body. After ogling her for what seemed like a polite amount of time, I closed the magazine and handed it to her.
I had my default face on, so I probably looked stern and mildly annoyed. She was wearing a similar expression, as if to say, “Who are you?” and “Why are you looking at naked pictures of me?” I said nothing, but if she’d posed that second question, my only honest response would’ve been, “It seemed like the thing to do at the time.”