Have we lost the freedom we once had to be silly, to be outgoing, to be ourselves in public, or is my anxiety stuck on yellow alert? There are times when I wonder what it must be like to run naked through a field or forest, to then jump into a lake and swim around. I never have because I’ve been conditioned to believe that there is always a camera phone nearby. It’s no longer a worry about an individual judging you, but the entire wrong side of the internet might be watching and judging.
I’ve lived with this fear all my adult life. Social anxiety. Essentially, the fear of being embarrassed in public. It took me a long time to feel OK shirtless at the swimming pool without worrying people would call me a fat slur. Even longer still to reach the point where I am happy to swim in tiny speedos on a public beach. I’ve had strangers call me fat for no reason other that I was walking past them. It’s hard to get over that.
I partly wear tiny speedos when swimming to feel confident in how far I’ve progressed and to feel connected to the water. I could feel the ice-cold splashes on my skin and the pockets of warm water randomly dotted around the lake. That feeling of gliding through the water as I picked up my pace, beautiful. It was nice to be silly and splash around in the cold waves, to feel confident and not to feel socially anxious.
One day, while at the beach, I looked around to see what swimwear was in fashion and I noticed that the beach thong was still a thing. Gender being a construct, I pondered, “Could I wear a thong to the beach?” In an attempt to challenge my anxiety and become a confident human, I decided I could and I bought a thong. An actual thong. One made for a male body, just in case bits flopped places. I had cover up front and a soft breeze brushing my bum cheeks. A human bum for all to see. Curves in all the wrong places, sculpted by beer, chocolate, carbs, and years sat at a computer.
A year after buying the thong (a year!), I found some courage and went to a beach to find a new level of confidence. I know I should thong like no-bodies watching, but we live in a world where everyone has a camera. For years, people have been photographing and filming everything they find good and bad, to then share online. This trend has peaked with TikTok. Almost every time I open the app, I am presented with a video of someone doing something, filmed by a stranger. Every day life is now content. If I walk down the street in a skirt, someone may film that so their audience can pile in on the judgmental laughter. When TikTok shows you this day after day, you believe it’s normal behaviour and repeat it. While I take steps to go to a quiet beach, it only takes one passer-by with the idea that filming strangers is normal to film me. I may have my arse out, but they’re a massive dick.
How is anyone supposed to feel confident and overcome social anxiety when there are always cameras watching them? (Says the photographer) Always people staring and judging? Of course, it’s not possible to know if someone is negatively judging you when they stare. That may be your anxiety running wild, and it is best to challenge that, to believe that they are impressed by your confidence. When someone holds a phone in a vertical position as they walk past you, are they filming you or simply holding their phone? I try to tell myself that they’re holding their phone and not filming me for TikTok. I try my best to believe that the world is good, but I know it’s quite often bad.
Google recently added a feature to alert you if your personal details ever leaked online. Smart, but I think we need to go a step further. What if we had a system that could detect if you are in someone else’s content? Face detection should be enough to go on. If the system finds you, it could give you the power to discuss the content with the creator, thus giving agency back to the people subjected to the camera’s gaze. Until that technology is created, tested and deemed privacy safe, people may continue to live in constant fear of standing out. I can’t imagine it’ll be quicker to educate people to be kind.
Maybe when such a feature exists we can go back to only worrying about the 5 people on the beach, not the 50,000 on the internet. Perhaps then I will bare my bum on the beach for body positivity because it felt great wearing a thong. Fantastic to swim in. It felt like skinny-dipping without flashing merfolk. Standing around on the beach in it, feeling confident having pushed myself that bit more, was a joy. Of course, the cost of that is strangers saw my bum. It shouldn’t be an issue.
I have, unfortunately, stepped into the great beyond, and it’s hard to go back. I’d love to be able to wear this every time I swim, even at home. However, there is only so much anxiety I can handle. Occasionally, I just want to go for a swim. I have not got the energy to fight every battle from my doorstep. I need a place to recharge, where I am safe. Maybe one day I’ll wear it at home and my arse will be the stuff of legend, an inspiration to all. They will create a mural of me in a thong looking at the sea with hope in my heart, beer in my belly and confidence in my caboose. It will be quite a thong to behold.