Nightmares: Who the hell is that woman?"
by d. g. k. goldberg <email@example.com>
The night a friend snapped my picture I was feeling--you know--gorgeous. I had that electrifying feeling that provokes hair-tossing, joke-telling, hand-on-hip posing, and hip-swaying.
In the picture, I did not look gorgeous. I looked anxious, exhausted, and raccoon eyed. I had streaks of clown rouge on my cheeks. Lipstick flecked my teeth. My self-perceived sylph-like beauty looked pathetically scrawny when caught forever in the unforgiving picture. The photograph assaulted me. I turned it into a joke: I looked like an anorexic hooker on heroin whose sell-by date had passed.
I wasn't laughing.
I especially wasn't laughing when the editor of a magazine I had written for wanted a picture to run with an article. I wanted to scream-look, I did not become a writer so people would look at me. I work in sweat pants I inherited from my deceased mom and T-shirts left behind by people who pass through my life. [T-shirts do that, check your closet. You have six T-shirts pertaining to bands you've never heard, restaurants you don't recall, or places you've never been, all left behind by people you don't remember.]
How can this woman want a picture? I only brush my hair on odd numbered days.
When I saw the way that picture came out, I made an appointment at Glamour Shots. Glamour Shots, as you undoubtedly know is a purveyor of dream and myth offering makeovers and photo shoots so that any woman with the cash can play super model for the day.
Glamour Shots had never before tempted me. No, really, it hadn't. Well, maybe just a bit, one PMS-y day when I was mall walking my frustration after trying to tart myself up at Victoria's Secret. Even the extra small teddies gapped over my non-existent breasts. I am convinced I'll reach menopause without going through puberty. I envision myself packing for the Old Uppity Women's Home---little boys sneakers, my dead mom's sweat pants, and my "littlest angel training bras."
After making the appointment, I felt a rush of shame, as if I was an adulterer, a closet opium-head, an embezzler. I thought of reasons to cancel the appointment.
Then, another editor asked for a photo. "Please, we like to run pictures of our contributors." As surely as the onset of my period arrives halfway through a drive to the beach, I was trapped.
I showed up in a baggy sweatshirt with my lanky hair stringing around my naked face.
The room was decorated with huge blow-ups of women pouting, vamping, and in general looking like they were caught in the throes of sexual ecstasy.
"I'm sorry," I said, "I am really going to be hard to work with." My stomach was knotting and I had developed a series of facial tics and twitches.
The relentlessly cheerful manager replied, "we're gonna make you beautiful."
I was straight jacketed into a smock. A sweet woman troweling pancake make-up onto my face complimented me on my eyebrows.
Then she and the manager sang a duet about the glories of a good hair cut. A good haircut they told me, is the foundation for a good hairstyle. I requested a professional look in lieu of the sex goddesses lining the walls. My hair was scooped atop my head and coaxed into swirls that resembled soft ice cream. I hated it. I looked like my mother--not my old mother---but my young Mommy when I was a little girl. Mommies were the only women I knew that wore their hair up with classy earrings. I did not recognize the face in the mirror. It wasn't mine. It belonged to someone whose towels matched her bath mat.
Then my lipstick was darkened; my eyes rimmed with more shadow. When that was finished, I dutifully parted my lips and slung my sprayed hair over one shoulder and then another. I was transformed into a sex-goddess clone.
When they captured my new look on camera, I watched the poses flit across the computer screen and saw a woman with a distant resemblance to myself. Her smile was stiff. Her eyes were vacant. She wasn't really anyone I knew. I supposed I got what I had come for--decent photographs of the physical self I inhabit--yet, there was nothing of me on the screen. I didn't even feel a twinge of pride seeing myself done up like a glamour puss. How can you feel pride in something that seems to have nothing to do with you?
I paid for several poses wondering if it wouldn't have been better to invent a series of lies: Oh, I can't have my picture taken since the accident. Well, I enjoy writing for your publication but my religion doesn't allow photographs. Or, even a simple, I am terribly sorry but women like me don't show up on film and I can't make daytime meetings either, will that be a problem?
I've rented apartments for less than the cost of those sheets of wallet-sized photos of me looking unlike me.
At home, I looked in the mirror; the make-up was melting. The mascara bled onto my cheeks, my teeth were flecked with lipstick. I neither looked nor felt gorgeous, although the photos were gorgeous. I was as dead and perfect as a bug in amber.
Then I scrubbed my way back to me. Again in the mirror, freckles reborn, lips naked, eyes unlined, I saw myself. I was neither a hag nor a femme fatale; I was just I--I looked pretty good to myself.
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