I have a photo of myself, wet and shirtless, standing in front of a mirror. I have another photo of me flexing while licking my bicep. A third photo is a closeup of my face, pouty lips, my Marlon Brando. These photos are hidden in a folder on my computer titled "ME." I shudder at the thought of publishing them anywhere online, but if I were to post them, I'd definitely post them on Instagram.
The photo-sharing app has become the accessory du jour for social media trendsetters, and this week Android users got to experience what Instagram is all about. For gay men it's a full-on display of the self. Felice Picano once referred to us as "looking-glass victims" -- and I'm pretty sure that was way before the advent of GuyswithiPhones.com. Now those rampant mirror pics first enabled by the iPhone camera have been filtered prettier and made shareable by Instagram. In a sense, the app has become our new full-length mirror -- and a window for the rest of the world to catch a glimpse of us in our undies.
"I think gay men for the most part crave attention. Instagram is an easy way to get as much attention as you want," said Cody, recently crowned TheSword.com's number-one hottie on Instagram.
Whereas models, actors, and pornographers get away with shamelessly promoting their looks (being vain is kind of in the job description), Instagram is making ponies out of the rest of us. And the community is happy to ride along.
"It's quite ridiculous, actually, but there's something to be said about getting floods of compliments when posting photos," said Mathew, a New Yorker on Instagram known for his "dirty yet artful" photos.
Posting a photo of one's exotic travels or award-winning imagery will get considerably less "likes" than a GPOY (gratuitous photo of yourself) baring a little chest hair. And this dynamic only propels a push to bare more. First the chest hair, then the filtered abs, maybe a silhouette of the butt, and next thing you know, you're waiting for everyone at the gym to leave so that you can take a self-portrait in front of the mirror while you lift your shirt up with your teeth.
"I personally draw the line when it comes to my cock. I won't really show the full thing," Mathew said. "I will show a little ass to be flirty, but that's because I'm comfortable with my sexuality."
But not everyone is so comfortable with the mantastic displays. Most users expressed a concern of family or employers discovering their Instagram profiles. Some even resorted to making it private. Furthermore, one prominent user in Madrid refused to participate in this article, uneasy with the "homosexual" connotations, and out of fear of being exposed to his employer.
Others are more concerned with coming off vain.
"I think for the most part my Instagram feed is pretty PG-13," Cody said, "but I'd probably be a little embarrassed by them seeing me take a billion photos of myself."
But is this any different from fixing our hair in the reflection of a parked car? Vanity, though a deathly sin, is a part of life, and a transsexual performer once advised me that if you've got it, flaunt it!
"I post shirtless photos because I like attention. But this isn't reserved to Instagram. I have my shirt off at any chance possible," said Scooter, a Toronto-based Instagram user who likes to follow artists and "sexy men."
I'm not insinuating that only gay men are prone to posing salaciously for a cyber crowd. Straight men and women also have quite the batch of nipple slips and cock shots to share. What's interesting about this trend for gay men is that being attracted to the same sex inherently means an attraction to oneself. We are at once both the manhunters and the hunted.
"I think it's great to be sexually attracted by what you see in the mirror. If you don't find yourself attractive, how is anyone else going to find you attractive?" Scooter continued.
Instagram is also creating new avenues for finding mates, as well as boundaries for keeping them. Some users confessed that "I follow you on Instagram" has worked as a pick-up line. And an increasing number of profiles, especially of users in foreign countries like Brazil and Spain, include KIK info (KIK is a messenger service for smartphones), suggesting a willingness to take the relationship to the next level: sexting.
"I suppose Instagram could be the new Grindr, in the sense that men will exploit any avenue to get their dick sucked," Scooter said. "The percentage of attractive men on Instagram seems to be higher than other social media."
And what about jealousy stemming from the relentless flow of half-naked eye candy? Most couples expressed reaching an understanding in terms of Instagram dos and don'ts, emphasizing a security in the relationship.
"My ass and dick are for me and my boyfriend," Cody said.
But by posting sexy photos on Instagram, we are not only trying to attract a mate but also trying to build confidence in ourselves by exploiting society's first, most immediate standard: the way we look. But in the anonymous, mobile world, who are we trying to impress? Are all these instant global connections making us needy for the validation of strangers?
"Everyone wants to be validated," Scooter concluded. "And when that validation comes from someone you think is really hot liking your pictures, well, that is the biggest boner."
Unlike with live go-go boys and strippers, at least with Instagram our objectification is literally in our own hands.