Here’s how an interaction might go on Grindr. If I’m partaking in a few of these conversations in a given day, and a few million people use Grindr monthly, quick math can lend itself to an estimate of how often this exchange happens every day.
Not much. Watching TV after work, might go to gym. Hbu
Same. Just got back from gym. Looking for?
Depends. Open. Friends, fun, dates all good
Cool, here for fun and dates.
Vers bottom, love oral/jerking/etc. Hbu
Top and same with the other stuff.
Hot. Trade pics?
Wow nice. Wanna hang sometime?
Yeah could be fun. Maybe this weekend
Initial small talk gives way to a pic swap. Many times, I’ve sent photos of myself to no response. Sometimes I’ve gotten blocked; I’ll have no way of hearing from that specific person why they blocked me seconds after seeing my photos, so I have to leave it to my own brain to formulate whatever concoction of my flaws eventually turned them off.
That’s all to say that I’ve become tripped up by the question-test that is usually one word: ‘Pics?’
It’s the first and most important question-test as far as anyone on the app is concerned. I say question-test because while it reads as a question, it also operates as a test. People have their profile photo up, and they may have a couple additional photos, too. But the question-asker is testing for other photos — what does this person look like at other angles? In other lighting? Without a shirt on? Without underwear on? The test determines if the person is valuable enough, based on their visual identity, to proceed with conversation.
If I get the ‘Pics?’ question-test, it triggers an anxiety around whether my physical identity can go to bat for me. Can the way I look verify my attractiveness and grant me value? Being of value, and therefore happy, hinges on whether I can continuously adhere my flesh to a standard that often feels so unattainable I cannot breathe.
Do I fit the mold right? I ask myself. Am I the correct copy of ‘guy?’ Is it okay that my face looks one way with a front-facing camera in this lighting, and then another way with a regular camera in this other lighting, and then still another way in this group photo? If I have abs in this one photo, but it’s from a year ago, is that morally OK to send? If my body is turned in such a way that doesn’t make me quote unquote skinny, that’s probably bad, right? Yeah I should delete that one and take a different one. Wait, am I kind of catfishing someone if I use a slightly older photo? How much do I get to suck in my stomach? How similar am I now to my younger self? Do I, in person, look like my photos? Or should I be asking if my photos look like me? Do I look like myself? Am I me?
Do I want to have my body adhere to this ideal, or do I want people to think my body adheres to it? My dedication to the ideal is suffocating. I want to have the body V lines, the pecs sanded and smoothly delineated, the shoulders slightly bulging, the stomach thin. The stomach has to be thin; that much has been made very clear. Any torso space unaccounted for is extra, is fat, is stupid and ugly and useless. And some work it’s done on my psyche. I’ve become disillusioned from my own body, distancing myself more each time I scavenge for positive affirmation by peddling a curated set of images meant to represent me.
What happens when you fail to present as the ideal? What happens when your profile pic, the first thing people see, is betrayed by the photos you send in response to ‘Pics?’ When you can’t merge your fleshy bodily existence with the curated selection of photos give you the best chance to pass the question-test? You are ignored. Maybe blocked. A simple rejection that I feel I should be used to by now, but the sting doesn’t wear off, it slowly festers just out of reach. No amount of willpower can numb it completely.
This is not to say that I haven’t ignored countless messages or photos. I am a guilty subscriber to the question-test to streamline my own conversations. I, too, often filter through other curated digital identities without any real confidence or assurance that five photos can successfully encapsulate a person’s entire being. But I either proceed with conversation or ignore, nonetheless.
And I want to say, “But then I discovered that I just had to be me!” I’d love for that to really work. I’m trying. In reality, though, I am stuck on the ride. I want to pass the ‘Pics?’ test every time. I want a 100% success rate. I want to look like me, and have my photos look like me, and have both of those things match with a nonreal body ideal. I want to look good to everyone all the time, no exceptions. I want to adhere perfectly to something I am not while my physical body trudges somewhere in a corporeal existence down below.