When I was 16 years old I woke up one day and decided to send a topless picture of myself to a guy I liked. We had met briefly the previous year when his high-school came to Quebec City and we had a dance party in the catacomb-like basement of the Château Frontenac. It was way past curfew when I kissed Jason (not his real name) in front of the entrance before he returned to his magical little village in Ontario. Jason and I had exchanged our long winded snail mail addresses and made an effort to stay in touch by writing and driving up long distance phone bills only to get in trouble with our parents.
So one day in the summer of 1987, I took the bus to the local Miracle Mart. It was situated at the end of the bus line in Place de La Canardiere in Giffard, a really sad little strip mall in front of the most monstrous and oppressive looking ‘insane asylum’ you will ever see. I call this centenary in-patient psychiatric facility an asylum because it is how it was referred to at the time by everybody in my family. You see, my paternal grandfather was in charge of the heating system of this hospital for almost his entire career. Giffard is a lovely town named after Robert Giffard, the first French seigneur who owned the long narrow land bordering the riverway, and it has, along with its neighbor Beauport where I grew up, the most awesome collection of historical homes in the area. I would live there if it wasn’t inhabited by the people who made my life Hell growing up. Robert Giffard’s name was also attached to the immense mysterious building us kids where scared of (because parents sometimes threatened to send children there never to be seen again). I mention this because in the mid-eighties, the hospital administrators decided that the patients should get out a bit more freely and smell the fresh air… It was a big controversial deal, and so they took to eating Dunkin Donut and haunting the strip mall… I credit this for briefly halting my career as a Mall Rat until Galerie de La Capitale, opened up a few years later. This one carried the patriotic word ‘Capitale’, referring to Quebec City not so much as the home of the province’s administrators but mostly as the super awesome capital of the imaginary country of Quebec.
It cost me less than 60 cents to take the bus to the terminus ‘La Canardiere’, named after my father’s childhood backyard playground, a wondrous wetland and duck habitat, that was filled in to build a series of ugly big box stores. There I found the instant photo machine I was looking for. Miracle Mart was an old style department store and as most stores of the day was devoid of any decoration, marketing signs or charm. Also, it had a lunch counter in one corner, which served greasy classics and allowed smoking! It is safe to say that nobody would consider even stepping into this place for either food or clothing today. But I was there to take a topless picture of myself and send it to Jason. It was my idea and was going to be a surprise!
The black and white photo machine was right next to the lunch counter where, as usual, a few depressed looking men were reading the paper, chain-smoking and drinking coffee. I took out a small fortune from my pockets and, looked around, took a deep breath and inserted the three dollars required into the payment slot. I had to make choice and consider this idea before doing it… It wasn’t like I had an allowance or was even allowed to have a job. So I had to take the 5$ required for my super secret project out of my very precious stamp budget. You see, when I was a teenager I had over 20 pen pals all over the world. Getting money for stamps to send them letters, mix tapes and sweets was a constant struggle. Since my mother raised me by progressively taking away everything (material or immaterial) I owned, I was really hard to hold on to gifts I was given or anything I made the mistake of loving too much. I always loved learning new things and today I know that it’s because knowledge can be hoarded but cannot be taken away. Unfortunately I also learned to be nice to the awful people who abused me… for money. This was formative, but in a painful multi-faceted way. I was sometimes able to get a 5$ here and there and buy stamps and they were precious. Of course when my mother’s boyfriend gave me 5$ by making me promise to not tell my mom, I knew I would get a serious beating when he told her I lied by omission. But sincerely, I was desperate for stamp money because I was addicted to the process of having nice formative and supportive conversations with kids my age who just happen to lived half-way across the world.
So in the tiny photo booth that promised a quick strip of photos, next to some randoms who were checking me out a few moments before I made sure the partial drapes were really well shut. I then lifted up my pink sweater hiding my face in the process for the few last photos. The most scary part of the process came next. I spent 4 minutes leaning against the machine, blocking the way, hiding the photo chute, hoping that nobody else would show up. The strip always fell face forward in order to avoid smudging so it was important that nobody see the pictures, neither the lunch counter clients or, worse, the recently graduated out patients who didn’t know staring at people was impolite. When the pictures came out, I took it carefully and held it face down for 30 minutes briefly looking at it to make sure it was good. It looked great! I was always blessed with the most awesome breasts ever since I was 12. I was always surrounded by perverts growing up but it wasn’t as oppressively gag-worthy as the open misogyny that permeates public life after 1990 when everybody and their father started spending all their time watching hardcore porn. It was then, after growing a DDD set of douche bag magnets that made every encounter with a man an excruciating reminder that boobs make men stupid, that I had them seriously downsized. But there was a time in my life when I did not hate my breasts and the day I took a topless picture of myself to send my pretend long-distance boyfriend was one of those days. A few years ago when a piss drunk coworker told me my breasts were fabulous at an office Christmas party, I briefly remembered how I originally felt about the greatest breasts there ever was, which were turned into 7 pounds of medical waste in 2001 and contributed to 2 of the 3 1/2 feet of scars that adorn the front of my torso.
I then put my naked selfie picture in a folded piece of paper, affixed the required postage and trust my illegal envelope to a big government controlled red box. I then put the rest of my money in the bus till and went back home to the dreadful people whom the Universe had stuck me with, my mother and her boyfriend, a sort of very low rent version of Donald Trump. To this day, it is why I refer to the patriarchy as those ‘old orange men’… It’s not specifically a dig on John Boehner or Donald Trump although they do qualify.
My picture made its way to the intended recipient who was surprised to say the least. Jason and I were never really an item beyond adolescence. When I got my first serious job as a tour guide at 18, I used the profits from my first gig, a trip to Cape Cod with 45 passengers, to buy myself a ticket to the Greater Niagara Falls area and saw Jason in person again. He swiftly got food poisoning, then turned green, and I left because I had another trip coming up. Hardly romantic.
When I read how teenagers get into trouble these days, I am reminded of how much work it was to do illicit things when I was a teenager. I may have been one of the people who had the earliest access to modern technology and internet-like networks in my hometown but I still had to go out of my house to embarrass or humiliate myself. This is not the case for today’s digital natives.
When I gave my twelve year-old daughter a smart phone, I had to tell her how one uses a phone or Facebook and more importantly, how one shouldn’t use a cell phone. So I had to come clean and tell my daughter that even though there are a thousand reasons why one shouldn’t send a naked selfies to anyone online, I am still the one who embarked on a costly and risky day-long adventure to do just that when I was a teenager. I did however have some advantages. My pseudo long-distance boyfriend never requested it from me and it would have been complex and cumbersome for him to copy and send it to all of his friends.
Using the cloud to share intimate moments previously reserved only for in-person occasions opens you up to so much drama. Just as a kid can use technology to send a naked selfie impulsively, so can the recipient simply push a button and share it with all their friends to gain points on the big douche bag leader-board of the Interwebz. Cue the slut shaming…
I sincerely think that guys hand out slut certificates to girls way too easily these days. I mean I took a whole day out of my schedule and assigned a budget equal to over 10 precious international pen pal letters in order to do something that qualifies as illegal but barely qualifies as introductory slutty. I worked tirelessly for years before I got married to be a slut and I cannot say that my hard work even came close. The journey became much more interesting than the destination and on it I met admirable, thougthful and sexually adventurous women who really had a much better hold on slutty than I could ever have! Being a slut is a hard work! And even today, for me to accept a slut certificate, it would have to come from a person who is knowledgeable in such matters, a slutty scholar of some sort, and more importantly, a man or woman whose opinion I trust, not some random teenager on the internet who’s pissed I don’t want to have sex with him!
Kids today, they do not understand hard work…
Marie-Lynn Richard is a serial web entrepreneur living in Montreal and her topless naked selfie is still safe and secure twenty-five years later somewhere in the teenage souvenirs of her former long-distance pseudo-boyfriend. This entry is but one of the stories in the series ‘Hey buddy, it’s hard work being a slut!’.