When I first hit the big city, I spent a lot of time clubbing. Yeah, I was one of those guys – it was the turn of the millennium, I had the money (sort of) and I had nothing better to do (so I thought). One of the clubs I went to, the now defunct Collective Cabaret, was known for some colourful characters. One of them, one of my first weeks there, was a girl in a silver bikini.
I need to explain this in some better detail. This was a club known to be rife with drug subculture, and was also considered to be less than totally conformist, social scene wise. There weren’t many jocks, it was five hundred outcasts packed in enough room for two hundred. The girl I’m talking about in particular, was sort of queen of the bar. Julien Smith mentions the “Pretty Girl at the Bar” scenario every so often, where we give people permission to think of themselves as above us by our behaviour. Well, this girl certainly fit that archetype fairly well. Not superbly tall, blonde as sin, exactly the shape you’d expect to see in a silver bikini.
But that became the problem.
Even in a place where fashion is at its bleeding edge, showing up to a bar wearing a shining lattice of plastic and little else can easily become a faux pas. Not always for the one wearing the bikini either. You see, I’d been coming to this club for, I think, three weeks when the silver bikini showed up, and – being eighteen, unconcerned with the fact that I was not pretty enough to talk to the pretty girl – I stared. Apparently, that was enough. After about fifteen minutes of total distraction (Seriously, she was a walking disco ball) one of her friends alerted her to my audacity, and she came stomping over.
Now, it’s been nine years since this happened, and I don’t recall the details. But the short of the conversation was that Silver asks me why the (expletives deleted) I was staring at her. To which I, being so shocked, asked her why the (further expletives deleted) she was dressed as she was if she didn’t want to be stared at?
The important lesson here is not that she was being a straight-up bitch, because as much as I thought at the time, she wasn’t. I got to know Silver a bit after this, and it made a bit of sense; she had made a mistake so many of us make when we buy something shiny, only in her case it had been more literal than in many of ours.
The attention we give external forces – social networks, our jobs as identity, addictions of all kinds, even silver bikinis – can ruin our judgement by causing us to skip the step that involves our first primary filter. The one that rejects stupid moves before we even consider it. We don’t evaluate how the shiny thing will affect us, how it will change not only our appearance or abilities. We don’t spend enough time, whether it’s supposed to be a moment or a month, testing with ourselves whether an acquisition, a decision or a proposition will be beneficial.
Silver here had actually thought that the outfit she had purchased, which looked so good on the mannequin in the store, would be just showy enough to get looks. What she hadn’t banked on was that her tolerance for attention was a lot lower than she thought – especially attention from strangers.
This happens to us a lot lately, more than we intend. We blog, we tweet. We use Facebook and leave our profiles public. We buy a lot of silver bikinis because they look so good in the window, but we don’t spend much time wearing them to the beach, where it won’t be a big deal. We wear them to bars, where we take stupid pictures. Then, when someone stares, we act like jackasses and can’t understand why our tolerances don’t interface perfectly with theirs, why they feel the need to stare at our shaking, shiny bad moves.
It’s easy to think of applications for silver bikinis. They look so good in the store, on paper, in the hands of others. What we need to get better at is making sure that we have the right arena set up in which to use these awesome things, because at the end of the day, when someone says “think outside the box” what they usually mean is sit quietly beside the box, don’t go wandering two or three blocks away.
Two or three blocks away from the box is exactly where we start finding shiny, skimpy silver bikinis.