Thursday, May 22, 2014

Innocence, Corruption, and Falling from Grace

A lot of people were up in arms about Miley Cyrus' music video, The Wrecking Ball. This brought up an issue that I've seen for a while now. This issue that when someone used to do something nonsexual or "innocent" and then starts doing something sexual, it's like this fall from grace where they've been corrupted and everyone's disappointed in them. And I'm not talking about celebrities - you see this often when someone's been out drinking and having sex and getting into trouble and everyone wants them to stop. The person will go on a talk show and they'll show a picture of them when they were five years old and so cute and sweet and innocent, and then compare it to a present-day picture of the person partying in a skimpy outfit, and everyone gasps and wonders what went wrong.

But I don't see what's wrong. Most teenagers and adults don't look the way they did when they were kids. Not just in terms of our bodies, but in the way we dress and act, and in the context of our pictures - most of us are just going to be in very different places doing very different things than we did when we were younger. Most adults are not going to look as "innocent" as they did in their childhood pictures. That's not necessarily a problem - this can be good, bad, or neutral, depending on the individual's life. But my point here is, whenever someone starts doing something we don't want them to do, something we think is scandalous or inappropriate, we start claiming that it's so horrible that they aren't in the same place they were when they were younger, when the reality is that most of us aren't!

Picture a child pretending to be an astronaut. Now picture that same person as an adult, wearing a store uniform or a business suit, doing nothing remotely related to astronomy. Now, if that person still wants to be an astronaut, then I do think it's really sad that they're not able to do it. But no one would blink at this story. Everyone expects us to accept that that's life. Even if you do feel bad that someone isn't doing what they always wanted to do, you probably aren't going to treat them like someone who fell off the path.

Of course, there's also the possibility that this person doesn't want to be an astronaut anymore. If they were very young when they had this desire, they've had lots of time to explore different options and decide that they'd rather do something else. But when it comes to these sexual fallen-from-grace stories, we never give anyone the option to change their mind. We can't accept that someone decided they'd rather be drunk-dancing in a revealing outfit than trying to win the school spelling bee. We insist on holding onto the "innocent" pursuits that the person once had. If we held everyone to that standard - that you have to be doing the same things you were doing when you were younger and nothing new or else you're a failure - almost everyone would have a fall-from-grace story.

When I was younger, I bought into this idea about all these people falling from their paths and doing "bad" things. And then I went to Colby College. And graduated. With a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. This was my fall from grace. I was incredibly happy with my life before college and with the person I was back then, and now, with that prestigious college diploma in my hands, I was so farther away from where I wanted to be than I had ever been in my life. So far away that I didn't see a way back.

I saw my story played out in other people's fall-from-grace stories. There were these anti-drug PSAs on TV a long time ago where a teenager would say, "They told me heroin would give me the best high of my life," then we'd see a bunch of horrible things happening as a result of them doing heroin, and they'd come back and repeat, "They told me heroin would give me the best high of my life. They lied. Find out the truth about heroin." I honestly thought I could make the exact same kind of video about college... "They told me college would be the best four years of my life. They lied. Find out the truth about college."

The absolute worst part about my own fall-from-grace story was that no one saw it that way. When I look closely at my college graduation picture, I can see that something is very wrong. I look ill and worn down, like the life that shone through in my high school senior portrait has been sucked out. I don't expect friends to be able to see that just from looking at the picture. I DO expect friends to accept it at face value when I tell them that it was a fall from grace. And now, I have amazing friends who will do that. But at the time, no one could see past the cap and gown and diploma. No one could really, truly, on a gut level, accept that my college graduation picture deserved to be treated like a fall-from-grace picture, like a "What happened to the REAL Nikki?" picture.

And that's when I saw the problem with all these other fall-from-grace stories - they're all about what other people are expecting of someone and don't have much correlation to what the person actually wants to be doing. I get that sex sells. I get that there might be pressure to be more sexual in your media/art than you want to be, and I do think that's a problem. But let me ask you this: if I got a job writing a sales blog for a company I had no personal interest in, would you be upset that I was selling myself short by writing things I'm not super-passionate about in order to support myself, or would you be happy for me because I got a job doing something that I love to do?

Let me tell you something - when I was a kid, I loved performing in front of people. I used the couch as a stage and put on shows for my family all the time. I always posed when someone was taking pictures, and I loved being the center of attention. So picture me at seven years old wearing sparkly dress up clothes, dancing and singing on my makeshift stage, and striking fancy poses for the camera. Now I want you to imagine me dancing in a sexual MTV music video wearing a really skimpy outfit. When you compare those two pictures, I may not look as young or innocent now as I did when I was a kid (who does?), but a lot of elements of the "now" picture are actually very similar to who I was when I was younger, and the person that I wanted to be.

I'm not actually in a music video. I wear business clothes and have an office job. If you compare my real "now" picture to the diva I was as a kid, that is sad. That is a true fall from grace. I wasn't overly sexual when I was a kid (I say "overtly" because I kept most of my sexual thoughts private, but I did have sexual thoughts as young as five years old), but I also never expressed an overt desire to work in an office, or to do anything not-fun for that matter. A picture of me starring in some super-sexual music video would be WAY closer to the person I want to be than a picture of me going to work in my professional business clothes.

The Real Me (age 9)

Fall-from-grace Picture

Again, I'm not asking you to notice own your own that anything is wrong with my grad pic - I'm asking you to believe me when I say that something is very wrong. I'm asking you to imagine me striking a sexy pose in a music video, look back at my 9-year-old picture and my graduation picture, and figure out which pic doesn't belong.

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