“Fine thanks. I’m so excited to be here.”
“You, er, were great, er, with your fashion at the Olympics.”
“Thank you so much! It was such a honor to be there.”
“Oh, ok, nice meeting you!”
This little conversation may seem completely benign. Essentially it is, however it begat the inspiration for this column. I have learned, not for the first time, but certainly the first time I’ve noticed, that the worst thing in the world is not to be embarrassed yourself, but to have to be in the presence of someone who is so utterly embarrassed for and by you that they start stuttering like a star struck young girl.
This conversation was with a 50-something gentleman who worked on the stage crew of a television appearance I was doing. The conversation was innocuous enough. The awkward gentleman was no different than most people I meet in my life’s goings on, aside from the fact that he was embarrassed, not just nervous. That morning, nude photographs of me were released to the tabloids of America.
When I woke up that day in the hotel and got a phone call that this had happened, I did what anyone must do, I cried for precisely five minutes, I slapped my sunglasses on and went to work. In my life, and especially my work life, there is constant opportunity to make a fool of myself, understanding that fact is how I am able to carry on without really caring much of what anyone thinks of me.
Over the last 29 years of being Johnny, and especially in the past six months while going through a very public divorce, I have built a very thick skin, and generally speaking, I am able to deal with my emotions privately and without much fuss. It’s when you have to start dealing with other people’s feelings that things get a bit hairy.
The uncomfortable position of knowing someone’s secrets is not an enviable one. When you are meeting someone for the first time, it may be difficult to think of anything aside from what you’ve heard or seen, like what I’m sure this man was thinking…ass…ass…ass…”So, how are you?” Even with your family and friends, knowing something about someone that is unsavory can totally distract you from your very real friendship or love, so why not just put it out there?
As a tactic, I like to bring up uncomfortable things right away, just so we can move on. For the rest of that workday I simply started conversations with people saying, “So hey, did you see my ass this morning?” This of course got a wide-eyed, unsure reaction, “Yeah.”
“Oh thank God, I was looking for it everywhere.”
The burden to lift the weight of these moments lies on the one who is supposed to be torn up, not the helpless bystander. The more uncomfortable you are with something, that sensation will of course rub off on your neighbors and make them just as uncomfortable. Life is full of humiliation, secrets and embarrassments, so why not deal with them head on and get rid of them?
I can tell you as someone who’s been embarrassed in front of millions of people all at one time, it’s just as hard to deal with that pain with those billions as it is with just one onlooker. There is no difference. Whether one person knows your secrets and looks at you with those glazed over, self preserving stares, or a million people take to micro blogs and start scrutinizing over your botched bikini wax, the pain is just the same.
There are times when we all fall victim to self loathing and the “woe is me” attitude, however it’s in those moments that we all must realize that the thing tearing you up today will seem like a piece of dust on your lifetime achievement reel. There is no pain in this world that we can’t fight on our own, there is no situation we can’t overcome, yet you have to make the personal choice to overcome it.
My name is Johnny Weir. I have succeeded many times but I am just as proud of many of my great failures. I failed to win a medal at the Olympics, but I went twice and skated the performances of my lifetime. I failed to have a successful first marriage, but I allowed myself to love. I have naked photos on the Internet, but my body is nothing to be ashamed of.
The moment we start owning our mistakes and finding that silver lining is the moment we move forward. Trust no one with your secrets, they are yours alone and you can accessorize them any way you choose.
Johnny Weir is a three-time U.S. figure skating national champion and two-time Olympic competitor