I have avoided linking my photo to my name for as long as I've been on the internet. In the early days, that was a conceit, because the web was the 'Net from Gibson and we were all (in my corner of reality) half role-playing netrunners anyway. Then it became a matter of paranoia. Self-protection. I shot my electronic mouth off a lot more Back Then, was more willing to engage with asshats on the internet. But I sure didn't want them finding out who I was. Then avatars appeared (oh, livejournal) and one's picture was as much of a communication as one's words, and why the hell would I want to use my own face? When I shifted into Facebook, and for classroom websites, I made cartoon icons of myself, reckoning my students could see the real me every class, but the cartoon communicated something different--the viking-hero version for the Beowulf class, for instance--became a part of the teacher persona.
Now...I have this novel coming out, see, and there's author photos Out There attached to the name, and for the love of all that is good I am on Twitter (somewhere, a pig flies), so it seemed like it was time to make real faces. (Really, at the heart of it, is that I cut my hair and the style no longer matches the cartoon viking-me. I am that...whatever the word is. Particular? Obsessive? You pick.) So I broke out the camera on the laptop and sucked it up and took photos. There were filters! They were fun. And kind to fairly shitty lighting (leave my chair to take a better selfie? No way). And, vanity! Kind to the rest of everything, too. You don't stand in front of a classroom of 19 year olds if you're self-conscious or crippled by give-a-shit, but still, photos on the internet.
I updated my Facebook with one of the first crop (which lived very briefly here and on Twitter, too). And almost immediately, I got a couple of comments about how "very serious" I looked. And I thought wait now. What? The ONLY comment you can make about me is...I am not smiling? Why even comment at all about my expression? Like (or do not like; there is no ambivalence) and go on with your day. Why do I need to be face-policed?
When Nous posts some new version of himself, let me assure you that he is not smiling. He is the Anti-Smile. He is deliberately scowly. Does anyone ever comment on his expression? No. They comment on his hat, or his photo composition, or just say 'nice' or some version thereof. I did not expect nice, because the photos were crap (Nous is a good photographer. I am not. The end.) Grant: I had no hat. I did have masks and paintings in the background because those are on the wall behind this chair, though I did not expect them to get comments, either. I thought I might get a where the hell did your hair go? or two, from the people who had seen it long, but that was about it.
But no. Where was my smile? Why was I not performing friendly for everyone?
We tell little girls to smile because it makes them pretty, which in turn sends the I am friendly/nonthreatening/approachable signal. I have made the fatal error of smiling at strangers before, only to get sucked into unwanted conversations or get followed around stores or hit on or harangued or whatever. So I learned, you know, not to do that.
Because I'm not that friendly, swear to the gods. I'm a cranky introvert who has no fucks to give about whether you think I'd be prettier if I smiled or whether my refusal to do so means I am a dyke and/or hate men. In my classroom, my office hours, my professional and personal interactions--I can and do smile, because I am happy to be there.
And that, ultimately, was the reason I took down the unsmiling me and replaced her with the sideways smirking me (and also because the light in my office was more conducive to photography). I do want to be here (though I am still a little ambivalent about Twitter; but I'm ambivalent about Facebook, too). But damn, I kinda miss the days of icons and avatars.