Vulnerability, the quality of being exposed to the possibility of being harmed, either physically or emotionally, as defined by oxforddictionaries.com.
Vulnerability can be discussed in many different ways. For example, in the age of social media, where everyone posts their day to day lives, everyone is exposing themselves for the entire world to see, and maybe even ridicule, harass and hate. Another example is being vulnerable to theft, having your phone sticking out of your back pocket makes you vulnerable to being pickpocketed, living in an area with high rates of crime leaves you vulnerable to be a victim of said crimes. Vulnerability can be seen in the high school kid who gets picked on, the partner who is a victim of domestic violence, the person who dares to speak their mind against the masses.
This topic, this word really interests me because it covers so many bases, it takes so many different forms which ultimately can be generalised into the same definition. Being vulnerable can be a superpower, it can be a downfall, it can be a strength or a weakness. In this article I’m going to talk more about the positive aspects of vulnerability, where it can be used as a strength, and power, and a stand against the oppression in the world.
Technology has connected the world like never before. Instantly talk with your friends across the globe. Watch the latest events live online, watch people go viral overnight and become globally famous instantaneously. It’s a crazy world and it’s only going to get crazier. Putting yourself out there is the new normal, in fact, we’ve surpassed that even. Putting yourself out there is essential. Marketing yourself, as a public figure, professionally, visually, even graphically is the way into most industries these days. Is it right? Not in all cases, but it’s becoming, or more so has become, an essential part of everyday life in a lot of industries.
Going back to social media, vulnerability has become a part of our day to day lives. Constantly updating our feeds with selfies, kids, pets, possessions and everything in between, there has never been a time to be more vulnerable. We share this content with the world; what we ate today, how we’re feeling every minute of the day, our successes and our downfalls. Everything is published to the world and no detail is spared. Some people find this over saturation of people’s lives unnecessary, dangerous and vain. Others see it as a celebration of life, love and who we are as individual people. This is a generalised way to say, our social media content is criticised and adored. We allow ourselves to be vulnerable to such an extreme extent that the bounds of privacy have changed.
Is this a good or bad thing? That’s subjective, but the unmistakable rise in being truly vulnerable to the entire world cannot be denied. Vulnerability online even goes as far as putting out graphic content of yourself, with the massive boost in ‘independent’ pornographic content from websites like Only Fans and even social media giants like Twitter. There doesn’t seem to be an end to how we can be globally vulnerable today, and I expect it will only become more and more common.
Power To The People
Being different, and being loud and proud about it, is a form of being vulnerable. Whilst some people may disagree, opting for the ‘empowered’ definition of this personal expression, it still falls under the definition of vulnerability. So why can’t it be both? Essentially, it can. To be empowered through difference, adversity and change is to open yourself up to the possibility of emotional or physical harm, which, in turn, it to be vulnerable.
One of the best things to come out of social media vulnerability is the rise in activism and rights. Mental health advocation, body positivity and LGBT+ rights have become massive issues highlighted by people being vulnerable on social media. Disabilities, medical conditions and more have seen a rise in awareness, charities and foundations have seen increased funding from social media trends.
Ultimately, the increase in vulnerability online has educated millions, given people a voice and even saved lives the world around. Whilst yes, we live in a day and age where people are posting an alarming amount about themselves online, opening themselves up to manipulation, hatred and outrage, people finally have a voice, a form of ‘freedom of speech’ and power that allows for mass education and mass debate amongst the population.
To put yourself out there, to advertise yourself as a professional actor, copywriter, business person, model, chef and so on is opening yourself up to the world, showing off what you can do, and ultimately, being vulnerable. Say, you’re a young aspiring creative, you’re eager to climb the metaphorical ladder in your chosen profession. You’re going to need an online portfolio, you’re going to need to sell yourself online and in person. You need to expose yourself to criticism, constructive or destructive, you need to be vulnerable.
An actor needs a showreel, they need to showcase their talent for casting directors and agents. A scientist needs to publish research and attempt to prove a hypothesis, which may be contested and disproven by other studies. A politician must choose their party, their morals and what they will advocate for, knowing full well they will be met with opposition, slander and hatred from members of the public. Vulnerability is a key part of professional life, without it we cannot progress professionally, we cannot have a voice and we ultimately won’t get anywhere with our chosen careers.
Do You Love Me?
Another form of vulnerability I want to talk about is vulnerability in relationships. Being with someone, being a best friend, being a parent, child or carer, are all forms of relationships that are founded on mutual trust, compassion and vulnerability. Being with someone, sleeping with someone, sharing your struggles with someone is being extremely vulnerable. Exposing the best and worst of yourself to family and friends, exposing things you hate about yourself, crying in front of people, all of this is at its core a level of vulnerability we don’t even show on our social media channels (although, this too is becoming more and more common).
The vulnerability shown in intimate relationships and family bonds can be highest level of being vulnerable, breaking down wall after wall that we put up to defend our vulnerability. Sometimes, this form of vulnerability can be more difficult to accept, or expose, than the form we put out on our social media. Showing off our faces, bodies, flaws and so on online is easy in comparison of opening yourself up emotionally to another person. I guess this could be thought of as a sort of mental vulnerability, where all physical layers are stripped away to show the complex, naked and entirely human mind that lies beneath.
Venting, a term now used regularly, is a way to expose your mental vulnerability to a friend, lover, family member. Being able to discuss deep personal issues is a form of exposing yourself, a heightened state of vulnerability, and as stated, becoming more and more public with use of social media. Whether that is a good thing or not is entirely down to a case by case matter. You can easily over-share online, exposing yourself knowingly to a backlash you weren’t ready for, or you could empower others to be open and forge better, healthier lives. In reality, these are two extremes on a never-ending spectrum, because nothing is black and white, everything has layers upon layers of context, sub context, discussion and meaning that need to be hashed out in order to be remotely quantified a supposed ‘place’ on said spectrum.
It Goes Further And Further
A while ago, I listened to a fantastic episode of a podcast I’m truly in love with, The 98%. In episode 11 of series 2 of the podcast, named #RegulateAndState, the two actors Alexa Morden and Katie Elin-Salt go in-depth into the abuse of vulnerable actors via casting websites such as Mandy.com, where casting calls are put out (mainly targeting female identifying actors) with sketchy descriptions and sometimes asking actors to do extremely inappropriate things.
If you haven’t cottoned on, this usually refers to the sexual exploitation of actors who are so desperate for work, they may be willing to do things far outside of their comfort zone. Before we move on, let’s make sure we don’t shame people who want to do these types of jobs, as this is an important art form that needs to be celebrated too. However, abuse of a person who does not wish to do a job, through promise of money and credits to put on your resume, is an abuse of vulnerability. I urge you to listen to this podcast, or at least this episode, however this is not this week’s endorsement!
Vulnerability is essentially a superpower, right? The openness to potential harm, technically, helps us advance, grow and become better people. In the most biological of senses, harm teaches the mind what not do to and what do to in future encounters with said cause of harm. For example, you stub your toe on a piece of furniture, after several minutes of saying a multitude of obscene four-letter words at varying volumes, you learn not to do it again. You understand that it will cause you pain, and you adapt to deal with that pain. Whether that is to avoid the pain altogether, or you rearrange your furniture, depends on the situation. Hell, you may even throw it out and invest in a better piece of furniture that has less risk of colliding with your sensitive toes! You take this knowledge, this epiphany and let other people know about the dreaded corner of death. Your barefooted stride is your openness to the chance of physical pain, your vulnerability, and in walking around like this you allow yourself to learn and adapt from life experiences, which is yes, in this analogy, stubbing your toe.
In a much more complex and psychological way, this could mean that being vulnerable on any level is allowing yourself the ability to learn, to adapt and to progress against adversity, and teach others in the process. Crying in front of others is embarrassing, highly emotional and not very pleasant. However, in doing so, you learn to adapt to this pain, grow from it, and let others know it’s ok, it happens, and life goes on. If this isn’t a modern-day superpower, I’m not sure what is.