1. Beauty Industrial Complex by Chuck Nwoke
2. Breaking the Mold: Interview with photographer Julia Busato by Carly Dee
3. How I Saw Myself by Tanya Chambers
4. Debt, Low Self-Esteem and Addiction: The Dark Side of My Love for Shopping
by Clare Trelawny-Gower
5. The Date by David DeFusco
6. Invisible Fat Me by Kathleen Lawrence
7. Keratosis, The Hourglass of My Figure Has Swallowed a Pear by Donna J. Gelagotis Lee
8. Limb by Alex Hayward
9. It’s My Body by Lynn White
10. How to Stop Laughing by Marilyn Mehr
11. Fissure Vision by Katherine Chan
12. The Fountain of Youth by Steve Slavin
By Katherine Chan
as i scroll through the images, collages of women and children, carefully curated vision, the
feeling makes its way into my space without knocking, asking for permission, and sink right in,
deep down to my core and female biological restraints and brainwashed ideals: he’s not right for
me. i confront my desires in those brief, intrusive moments, face to face, woman to woman. i
want a family.
immediately i remember my lust for a non-normative life; a fluid, constantly flowing embodiment, with consistent resurges of energy. i want to reside in different places, experience a diverse life; i want to entertain the many personalities that have somehow decided to reside within me and wait patiently for their years, their time to be released. it feels like the devil calling: this desire which seems to be the polar opposite of a family; the resistance against ‘structure’.
the fissure doesn’t close, but i’m constantly being pulled, jerked, urged around by the erratic on one shoulder and the rational on the other. my long-term companion in the art form of life; the me in the coming years. it resembles the disconnect that takes place between the mind and the body, two parts that come from the same being: a greed for desires that will sate for an unknown period of time. strangely enough, duration matters here; timing matters here. what factor is irresistible, self-identifying enough for one life’s complete devotion?
and if i didn’t have a body to identify with, would i still want children? if i didn’t have a gender that i identify comfortably with, would i still desire to be a mother? if i didn’t have the desire to be a mother, would i still be able to identify as a woman? and if i couldn’t have children, would i still identify comfortably with my body?
would my desire for an identity consisting of a sexuality that feels like skin, non-imprisoning, coincide with my desire to feel connected to my body, as if having made use of it in reproducing, introducing, and nurturing a new life? could liberty and definition coexist in coherence, within the confinements of our consciousness and our undeniable, physical form?
Fissure vision was written for an interarts show curated by Katherine Chan in Paris, January 2017. The show was titled DYSEMBODIMENT, a mental experiment on imagining a body without sexuality. This piece was part of zine produced for the art show. The images are also taken from the zine, featuring the art installations created by the artist exhibiting under the name of Consent, titled "Ask for it". The installation was made with acrylic, charcoal, and mixed textile on canvas hung on oak dowel.
Katherine Chan defies the idea of normativity and being defined by any single part of her life. She is an emotionally intelligent woman of colour writing prose and poetry, doing the PR thing, and constantly connecting with artists, creative individuals and organizers to make an impact. Latest obsessions are tropical foliage and large-scale, immersive art installations. Discover more about Katherine's work on kthrnec.com, thoughts and images on twitter (@_kthrne) and Instagram (@kthrnec).
by Lynn White
Photography by Reelika Ramot
It’s my body to imagine,
to construct and shape,
in or out of fashion.
Or so I like to think.
of me and my body.
I have to consider these,
to determine my own reality,
have to decide how to engage
these multiple images
and their projections
to reveal myself to myself,
if I can see them, that is.
For sometimes they are invisible,
as sometimes I am,
existing only in imaginations.
But, it is still my body,
to decide whose versions
it engages with,
who it entertains.
And who enters
into this conversation.
Lynn White lives in north Wales. Her work is influenced by issues of social justice and events, places and people she has known or imagined. She is especially interested in exploring the boundaries of dream, fantasy and reality. Find Lynn on Facebook @Lynn-White-Poetry and lynnwhitepoetry.blogspot.com.
by Clare Trelawny-Gower
Images by Reelika Remot
At the tender age of 19 I went to university. Acutely aware of the upcoming challenge of building a new, adult identity, I purged my wardrobe of any clothing that could belie my previous life as a badly dressed teenager. The stakes were high: at Cambridge University I could no longer rely upon being 'The Smartest'. I had to be a new superlative. 'The Coolest' was ruled out by a childhood spent in a small coastal town, decades behind city trends. A lack of confidence precluded 'The Loudest'. Eventually, I decided upon being 'The Best Dressed' – a lofty ambition for someone who was once asked if Sabrina the Teenage Witch was her style icon.
And so it began. Emphasizing the importance of fitting in and making friends, I told my mother that I needed a new wardrobe. Before we went shopping I made a list of clothes, shoes and accessories I had seen on websites like Lookbook, and although I was doubtful that the long coats and thick jumpers would look as effortless and ethereal on me as they did on the models, I bought whatever they were wearing. Now, in the age of Instagram, these people would be called 'influencers': beautiful, waifish women who are paid by brands to be photographed in their clothes. Perhaps I was naive, but back then I believed that the pictures, outfits and shopping habits of these glittering people were real and achievable. In October of 2010 I moved to university with a suitably absurd amount of clothes and shoes, ready to become a Well-Dressed Person.
At first, all was well. I was complimented on my sartorial choices. Someone told me I did great things with jackets. But soon, the mantel of my new, well-dressed identity grew heavy. I felt compelled to be fashionable and noticeable all the time, which meant buying more clothes. Whenever my self-esteem was low – when I felt ugly or drab or unaccomplished – my solution was to buy. Buy clothes, buy skincare products, buy accessories. My coping mechanism was insatiable, manifesting in countless spent plastic bags and crumpled receipts – as well as a deeper overdraft.
My self-esteem became more fragile as term marched on. I suffered from the affliction of the young overachiever: an identity crisis precipitated by no longer being the brightest in the class. I felt mediocre; as though my writing, research and thoughts were suddenly unsophisticated. Buying soothed the anger I felt towards my appearance and my brain.
As my degree progressed, the worse my shopping habit got. By second year, I had free rein over my schedule, which, unfortunately, allowed me to spend more time poring over my appearance every morning. I would pick at every spot or imperfection on my face and obsessively cut off split ends. I was changing outfits three or four times before finding one I didn't hate, and to the detriment of my feet I began wearing high heels every day, as they made me look slimmer and my outfits more fashionable.
However, it was never enough. I was in a boom and bust cycle of self-loathing. When I was unhappy I would buy, convinced that one more new top or skirt or bag or belt or pair of hoop
earrings would make me prettier, cooler and closer to my beauty ideal. It was a short-lived solution. Within days (or hours) I would start criticizing myself again and crying out of frustration. I felt trapped by my reflection and inability to relax. The shopping bags and price tags amassed in my bin and on my floor and on my desk, blocking out the reality of what was going on: my solution, consumption, was not working.
The ‘shopping queen’
Looking back now, I had an addiction. I was shopping all the time, spending hundreds of pounds a month on clothes to fix my low self-esteem. I remember each purchase bringing a fleeting moment of happiness – I would look into the bag of clothes, thinking of how I would wear them and how many people were going compliment me. However, like smoking a cigarette or taking a strange pill, the thrill was always ephemeral. As soon as I laid the clothes on my bed I felt racked with guilt. I would move money around in my mind, desperate to fill the holes in my finances. If I didn’t go out this weekend, if I stopped buying clothes for a month, maybe everything would be alright.
It wasn't alright. By the end of my three-year degree, I had clocked up over £3000 of credit card debt. When I left my student house for the last time, my parents had to hire a van to move the bags of clothes I had collected. There were some items in my wardrobe I hadn't ever worn. Still tagged and perfectly pressed, emblematic of the short-termism of my addiction.
It wasn't until I started writing this essay that I even Googled 'shopping addiction'. Despite confronting the link between my low self-esteem and compulsion to shop, I had never verbalized it as such. I was surprised to find a wealth of research and articles on the topic, all confirming how I felt and behaved five years ago: consistent overspending, denial of spending, guilt and low self-worth. My aversion to research was also probably aided by how absurd the phrase ‘shopping addiction’ sounds. After all, ‘shopaholic’ is just a cute neologism for a well-dressed woman, right?
On the inside, spending relentlessly brought me little long-term joy. I was often miserable, acutely self-aware and quite lonely. However, unlike many other addictions, on the outside mine was glamorous. Shopping didn't seem to fit under the somber umbrella of 'addiction'. Instead, it fit perfectly into the sunny zeitgeist of the 2000s – the era of Sex and the City, Clueless, 90210 and The Hills. The era of the NY and LA girl; the ‘shopping queen’ and ‘the shopaholic’. My destructive behavior was nurtured by the protagonists of the TV and films I grew up with: white women who shopped for a living and glamorized credit card debt. Women who collapsed, laughing, onto sofas under the weight of a day’s shopping.
I embraced the epithet of ‘the shopaholic’. After all, according to popular culture, the shopaholic is sociable, whimsical and popular. Well-dressed and with good taste. I willfully ignored how problematic it was a concept, as well as the vested corporate interests that keep the shopaholic so full of steam.
The inexorable rise of the beauty industry
The beauty industry(1) is built upon manipulating our self-esteem. In order to keep us buying, it perniciously winds its way into our brains as we transition from child to adult, setting up the internal battle with body image that many of us will struggle with for a good portion of our lives. It launches a full-scale attack on our perception, with never-ending slideshows of unattainable beauty flickering upon our irises. We are suffocated by adverts, pop-ups, billboards and emails.
These adverts present a single image of western beauty: one that is white and slim, with shiny caucasian hair and perfect teeth. They don’t represent a dream, but an aspiration for young women. Given that these images are almost entirely detached from reality – the models are nipped, tucked and Photoshopped to a point that they become superhuman – by extension, our aspirations and expectations become out of touch with reality too.
The most curious part of this situation is our collective acknowledgement of the use of Photoshop. Most women know that models and magazines retouch their photos, and that the lithe limbs of the ’influencers’ we follow on social media are probably smoothed by one of a plethora of photo editing apps. And yet, we have yet to reframe our standards of beauty. I have stood with nearly all of my girlfriends as we bemoan our bodies, gripping onto loathed pockets of fat, pulling at our hair, smoothing out our stretch marks. Our reflections are not objective; they are loaded with ideals. The true power of the beauty industry is found in the discrepancy between what we see and what we want to see.
According to Euromonitor, the beauty industry grew by 5% last year, with premium cosmetics experiencing the most significant boom (sales are predicted to generate over $20bn by 2021). Raconteur projects that cosmetic sales will reach $675 billion by 2020. Immune to even macroeconomic meltdowns, beauty is big business. Such astounding growth is interesting when we consider a few of the major consumer trends of the past few years. Namely, a focus on health and ’natural’ living, and the millennial distaste for inhuman, hard-sell brands.
The continued unbridled growth of the beauty industry can partly be explained by the advent of 'influencer marketing’ – perhaps the industry’s most genius and egregious sales tactic. According to Tapinfluence:
“Influencer marketing is a type of marketing that focuses on using key leaders to drive [a] brand’s message to the larger market. Rather than marketing directly to a large group of consumers, instead [a brand] inspires / hires / pays influencers to get out the word for [them].”
In other words, brands are relying on people, rather than posters, to sell their products. In a bid to remedy fracturing trust in their airbrushed adverts, beauty companies are diverting their advertising budgets from billboards to blog posts, capitalizing on the massive sales power of social media.
Influencer marketing is sold as a more human way of promoting a product. The theory goes that influencers (whose lives appear to be woven from cashmere, goji berries and the golden light of perpetual summer) promote a product or service through their popular social media accounts. The influencers’ followers, who want to mimic the illustrious life of the influencer, are then inclined to buy these products. Influencers who promote these products on their Instagram, Facebook and Twitter profiles are rewarded in the form of money or free merchandise. With 82% of women claiming that social media is the most significant driver of beauty trends(2), it seems that the theory is working.
Influencer marketing, facilitated by the explosion of mass social media, is how the beauty industry has resisted the sharpening razor of consumer cynicism – and it’s almost certainly terrible for our confidence. Studies of social media’s effects of self-esteem (particularly that of young people) have drawn worryingly similar conclusions. According to a study by Scope, social media platforms make over half of British adults feel inadequate about their lives and achievements(3). Research by Clarissa Silva found that 60% of people using social media reported that it has impacted their self-esteem in a negative way(4). Respondents to a survey by the Royal Society for Public Health linked Instagram with high levels of anxiety, depression, bullying and ‘fear of missing out’(5).
It’s not a broad leap to suggest that brands’ use of social media influencers is hurting our self-esteem. In fawning over each pixel of an influencer’s airbrushed Instagram post, zooming into their tanned limbs, expertly assembled outfits and candid moments of a never-ending holiday, we continue the journey of relentless comparison, reaching for a level of artificial perfection. The explosion of photo editing apps supports this: compelled by a desire to emulate the glittering lives of influencers, 82% of women surveyed by Forza Supplements admitted to editing their photos before uploading them.
Recovery: practicality and introspection
It’s not a coincidence that my most intense period of using Instagram coincided with intense anxiety. In my final year of university, I got really into Instagram’s #outfitoftheday hashtag, using it as a way of scouting new outfit ideas. On good days, I would upload my own pictures and feel flattered by compliments from strangers. On bad days, I would pore over pictures of thin, immaculately dressed women – women who made my face feel like a blotchy cushion and my thighs like grotesque blocks of Lego – desperately asking myself why I didn’t look like them. I would stare at the mirror, using my mind’s eye to draw blinkered lines over my body, nipping and tucking the parts that disqualified me as a ‘beautiful’ person. I felt both trapped and defeated by my own body.
It sounds surprising, but I was intensely aware of the artificiality and impossibility of the female beauty standard throughout this period of my life. I was studying social sciences and surrounded by fiercely intelligent people, all of whom decried the continual objectification and exploitation of women’s bodies. It was as if my brain was divided into two: I was rational and critical, yet emotional and able to manipulate. My friends would reassure me that I was pretty and that I had no reason to dissolve into self-hatred and insecurity. I knew they were probably right, but I continued to ruminate over the flaws I saw in the mirror.
Getting over this period of my life was a result of a couple of things. The first was practicality. I graduated, moved to London and took up an internship. Having to be at an office on time applied a necessary time limit on how much time I could obsess over my appearance. I often left my house flustered and anxious, but within a couple of hours I would feel fine. I was also on an intern wage and had maxed out my credit options. I didn’t have money to spend on huge amounts of clothes. My second remedy was indulging in a little introspection. I realized that I was happier after having a drink with friends, seeing a movie or going to a lecture than I was after buying anything. In the name of ‘experiences over things’, I committed to a month of no spending, saving the money I would usually spend on clothes for a holiday. (In the name of my orthopedic health I also stopped wearing high heels in the daytime.)
To pretend that I don’t struggle from bouts of low self-esteem would be a lie. I still find myself browsing through clothes, skin care products and weight loss tactics. However, I now know my triggers (excessive use of Instagram and clothing websites, for example) and recognize damaging thoughts (like linking purchasing with overall existential happiness). Whenever I am feeling shaky I remember the feeling of travelling for five months with only a suitcase. I recount how incredibly empowering it felt to not be surrounded by mountains of clothes, and how happiness seemed to find me despite recycling a carousel of only five outfits.
Beauty is big business and the stakes are high. To continue its inexorable growth, like a chameleon, the beauty industry must constantly change its colors. This means finding new ways to burrow into our lives, including crawling into our smartphones and hijacking the trends that could turn us against it (the transformation of ‘body positivity’ into a marketing slogan is a salient example(6)). With a wealth of studies demonstrating the noxious effects of social media – and I extend this to ‘influencer marketing’ – it is imperative that we begin to look at the roles of popular culture, social media and the beauty industry more critically.
And as for me, like any recovering addict I still suffer from temptation and relapse. I try to shop only when I feel happy and positive, and have established a policy of leaving baskets of online shopping for twenty four hours before I think about buying them. I have also worked out a pretty good incentive system. Whenever I consider buying a new dress, shoes or lipstick, I calculate how many days of exploring a new city or reclining on a beach I could buy with the money instead. In my experience, immersing myself in the soft sand of summer nearly always wins.
Insecurity lives within all of us. The beauty industry will try to coax it out, but we have the power to restrain it. To confidence and to critique.
1 For simplicity, when I refer to ‘the beauty industry’ I am combining the fashion and cosmetic industry
Clare is a Berlin-based writer. After graduating with a degree in Politics from Cambridge University, she began her career ghostwriting and copy-editing. Now, she is finally making the leap into writing her own stuff. A fan of politics, comedy and everyday dystopia, Clare is currently working on a screenplay and a little satire.
By Marilyn Mehr
I don’t know why I started laughing. Nothing was funny, not really, not the two of us, Annie and I, lurching along the freeway at breakneck speed to reach a neglected neighborhood of West Los Angeles, to show up for an appointment with a doctor we had never met on a Saturday morning in September 1993. We were two middle-aged women who had lived together for nearly 20 years and were both scared. ‘Nothing funny about that. From our home in Mt. Washington, down the winding roads named after the Mexicans who had carved them—“Cazador,”” El Paso,” “Figueroa”—to the sprawling freeways, taking us to the edges of the old Culver City movie lots, we had barely spoken, not even smiled.
When we pulled up beside a white stucco apartment building, I was sure that Annie would tell me to drive away and find the nearest coffee shop. But no, she pushed open the car door and found her way unsteadily to her feet and began crossing the sidewalk in a crablike walk to a set of stairs.
“Wait! I’ll help you.” I called out, but she waved me away.
Not one to pay attention to those resisting my help, I hurried along behind her until she had reached midway to the second story. For a moment, I averted my eyes as she missed the next step, grabbed the wooden stairway and tumbled backward pell-mell into my arms as we spiraled downward onto the landing falling into a potted palm. The air was blue with expletives (“stupid, fucking palm tree!”) as Annie swore at the mulishness of the plant, brushed the dust and humiliation from her clothes and tried to stand up. That’s when I started laughing.
“What the hell is so damned funny?” she yelled at me.
“Nothing,” I gasped, one hand over my mouth as I reached with the other to lift her up. “It is funny, too funny—the two of us falling into a potted palm in a godforsaken section of L.A. in search of a Chinese magic doctor.”
Annie stood up, straightening her tweed jacket, brushing off her gabardine pants, while glaring at me and squinting her eyes against the morning sun. She rubbed a bruised patch of skin on her cheek. Then, determined to navigate the steps alone, she said, “Come on. We’re going up there to meet this little lady and see what she knows. You can laugh like a fool in a funhouse, I’m going in.”
Starting up the stairs again, she held firmly to the railing, lifting each foot deliberately until she reached the top. Then, searching for the apartment number and, seeing that the door was open, she stepped inside.
Annie tells me that I laugh when nothing is funny because I’m tense and afraid to show how I really feel. How I felt at that moment was hysterical. Nothing could have kept me from laughing, although God knows, I tried. When I saw the tables lined up in what was meant to be the living room, I was just curious. When I noticed a middle-aged man who appeared to be Asian, his head barely visible above a mound of paper sacks and twigs, I wanted to laugh. I put my hand over my mouth, trying to muffle my giggles under the steady snap of breaking branches. No one noticed.
Hearing us enter, the man jumped up, bowed and offered us seats on folding chairs lined up against a wall. Now, I knew that we would leave. Annie would survey this twig factory, take in the odor of decaying trees, make an excuse and we would leave. Perhaps, we could drive out to Santa Monica for lunch. The ocean air would do us both some good. To my surprise, she sat down, folded her hands in her lap and waited. Taking her cue, I did the same.
Nobody said anything for about ten minutes, the only sound being the steady cracking of the twigs. To divert myself, I tried to count the snaps, “one, two, three,” then multiply them as though taking a pulse to get the numbers per minute. I tried to focus, just to get some control, but couldn’t.
Finally, a short woman in a white lab coat appeared at the door holding what looked like a patient’s chart. Wearing glasses and sensible shoes, she projected an air of quiet confidence. She smiled as she asked, “Which of you is the patient?”
Annie raised her hand and attempted to rise. Seeing her difficulty, the doctor came to her side, offering her arm as Annie rose unsteadily.
“You are Annie,” she said. “I am Dr. Chang.” She placed her arm around Annie’s waist and guided her to one of the rooms, leaving the door ajar as she began questioning her about her symptoms.
As the interview proceeded, I tried to settle myself on one of the foldout chairs lined up against the wall, tracing our path to this little office in the middle of an impoverished suburban park on the Westside of Los Angeles. How did we get here?
Six weeks ago, I had sat across from Annie at our breakfast table watching the clouds pass over the San Gabriel Mountains while Annie flipped through the newspaper. We were both dressed, ready to run off to our jobs as professors, she at a nearby university, where she taught in the Counseling Department, and I at a nearby graduate school of psychology.
Suddenly Annie put her hand to the side of her face, her eyes wide in alarm. “My face is so hot! Do you see anything? I’m burning up!”
I reached over the table, to put my hand on her forehead. Her temperature seemed normal, not feverish, and her complexion was its usual light olive color. I told her that I couldn’t feel anything.
“Well, then, it’s gone,” and she folded the paper. “No, there it goes again! It’s like a street light—on/off, walk/stop—and now, I can’t see out of my left eye!”
I tried to remain calm as I watched and measured her responses. For the next five minutes, the flashes of heat and blindness continued until I finally blurted out, “I’m going to call a doctor who’ll see you today. Something’s wrong!”
As a psychologist who had worked in hospitals, I knew many physicians in the area and soon set up an appointment with a well-known neurologist. We both cancelled our regular appointments and tried to while away the time until we saw her. We distracted each other by listening to music, sharing a sandwich and flipping through some old New Yorkers, pointing to cartoons and trying to laugh.
Finally, at 2:00, we met with Dr. Nielsen. A slight woman in a white coat, hair drawn into a knot behind her neck, she was efficient, thorough and brusque. After examining Annie, she sent her for an MRI and lab tests, indicating that there were several options, all of which scared us silly: brain tumor, compressed nerves in the spine, optical neuritis and MS, that is, “multiple sclerosis.” By the time we returned a week later, Annie’s vision had returned but the flushing continued as well as problems maintaining her balance.
“I just feel tipsy,” she complained.
The doctor sighed, reviewed the chart, threw the MRI onto a screen and pointed to the lesions scattered like spilled pepper over her brain.
“We don’t know for sure, but it looks like MS,” Dr. Nielsen said folding her arms as though to block out contagion.
Annie replied cautiously, trying not to push back too hard. “Well, O.K. What can be done to treat it?”
“Nothing really,” the doctor replied, pursing her lips. “It may get worse, it may get better. We can try a round of steroids if it returns and it probably will, but for now, nothing. We’ll just watch and wait.” And with that, she closed the chart and left.
For the next few weeks, Annie returned to work, balancing herself on doorways and desktops, trying to conceal her symptoms until one day, exasperated by the doctor’s curt brushoff, I marched down the hall of my school, seeking out a colleague who had a reputation for knowing about alternative medicines. Paula’s office was covered with the posters of 60’s idols—Janis Joplin, Ram Dass, the Grateful Dead—her sympathies were clear. She still lived in the 60’s, as her dress easily confirmed--the long blonde braid trailing down her back, the rows of beads, the colorful headband and the Indian cotton blouse—all expressed her love of the counter-culture.
Although I had lived in that time, too, I had become more traditional, accommodating to the scientific method to survive in graduate school culture. I was open to alternative medicine, but I didn’t advocate any of its methods. After all, my own mother had been an ardent student of “natural” treatments, schooling herself with the ministrations of chiropractors, nutritionists, iridologists and phrenologists. She insisted that we never touch white bread, always buying whole grains, which she would grind, then bake into huge round loaves, free of all contaminants and she always resisted antibiotics as they “killed off the good germs, too.”
Paula listened carefully, asked a few questions and gave me a slip of paper that said, Dr. Junjiang Chang, Chinese Medicine. “Try this,” she said. “I think you’ll like her.” As I left her office and walked down the hall, I had an uncontrollable urge to laugh and could hardly get to the door of my own office before I burst out giggling. Here I am, a Professor of Health Psychology, trained in the scientific method and I’m finding Annie a quack to cure her MS. Well, western medicine has nothing to offer, why not turn to the east? Anyhow, I reasoned, it doesn’t matter because Annie will never go.
Yet, she did. When I told her about my conversation with Paula, Annie was eager to set up the appointment. “There’s nothing else,” she had said stoically, as we got into the car this morning. I was even more surprised when she surveyed the building, looked around the modest neighborhood and walked up the stairs, straight into the twig-snapping factory of Dr. Chang.
Dr. Chang wasn’t a traditional doctor and didn’t observe traditional notions about privacy, either. She left her door open as she proceeded with Annie’s history so all could hear, including the man breaking up twigs, if he understood English. When Annie finished recounting her symptoms, Dr. Chang reviewed her notes and said gently, “Annie, I don’t think that this is MS. Have you traveled anywhere recently?”
“Yes, we were in Baja California six weeks ago. When I came back, I was very sick with a stomach virus which I thought I had gotten from the food.”
“Hmm, I think what you have is a virus which has settled in your brain.”
Sure, I thought to myself, and next she’ll say that Annie has Mexican bees in her bonnet, but I kept listening.
“What you must do is to take these herbs—from China –boil them three times a day and drink the broth—drink it fast. Can you do that?”
Annie agreed that she could. I was certain she wouldn’t. She hated to cook and would never even open a can of soup for herself, preferring anything that didn’t require preparation—cereal, yogurt, dried apricots, licorice sticks. I knew she wouldn’t put twigs in a pot and drink the liquid. Still, my partner of twenty years had surprised me many times in the past few weeks. She might again.
“Come back in two weeks and we can talk about acupuncture,” Dr. Chang advised, putting her arm around Annie’s shoulder and guiding her gently to the door.
“Annie is going to get better,” was all she said as we made our way out and down the steps.
For the next two weeks, Annie boiled the twigs and leaves filling the house with a foul brackish smell that seeped into the curtains, the carpets, the couches, even our clothing. Once, when Annie was at school, I sipped some of the broth and spit it out into the sink, gasping at the acrid taste, which was just as foul as the smell. Still, Annie drank vast quantities of it, never complaining.
On the Saturday of our next appointment, Annie looked across the breakfast table at me and said, “Just so you know, I can see now…no more blurring, no more fog... and the flushing has stopped.”
I didn’t laugh. I didn’t do anything, but stare at her and marvel. Someone I had known for twenty years had surprised me by her willingness to cross borders of training and culture, to try something new, anything, to get well.
I threw my arms around her. “Maybe you’ve washed it away. Let’s hope.”
Was it MS? Probably, but the symptoms didn’t return for eighteen years, time to grow her career, teach and write articles, see patients, travel, experience life fully. And then, one day, in 2005, she started to walk from the couch in our New York apartment to the television and fell. We dismissed it as clumsiness, but then she fell again. The next time she fell, we agreed that she should see a neurologist. At the Mt. Sinai MS Clinic, we met a warm Israeli doctor whose sense of humor was similar to Annie’s and mine. She too could laugh at the adversities of nature.
When Annie told her about Dr. Chang’s remedies, Dr. Leibowitz never scoffed at the story of a little Chinese doctor working out of the second story of an apartment building. She didn’t call us gullible or naïve, but marveled at the length of Annie’s recovery. This time, the new doctor had her own medicines to offer, but no real assurances. No one knew how the disease would progress, she cautioned, but she, too, took Annie’s arm, touched her gently and offered support for whatever lay ahead.
While they continued their visit, I remained in the waiting room. I had learned to stop laughing when I was scared. Now, I breathed in, breathed out and hummed a tune from the Grateful Dead, “Tell you what I’ll do, I’ll look out for you.”
Marilyn Mehr is a retired psychologist and Professor of Family Medicine who lives in New York City where she writes and engages in social protest. Her most recent publication was Such Charming Exiles: How Two Gay Women Learned to Live Openly and Love Fiercely. In addition, she has written The Courage to Achieve, with Betty A. Walker, and Holding the World Together, a novel about her Mormon ancestry. She lives with her wife, Betty Walker, whom she married at the Bronx County Courthouse in 2011, all thanks to the Great State of New York.
by Tanya Chambers
How I saw myself:
In elementary school I was teased
For wearing straight leg jeans
In middle school it was
For having messy hair
In high school I was ostracized
For having werewolf eyebrows
But no one called me fat
I can blame myself for that
At lunchtime I would refuse to eat
Stomach growling under the table
In college I worked out each day
Blacking out on the treadmill
A therapist told me I was happy
And a nutritionist said I was healthy
But no one called me fat
I can blame myself for that
I would look in the mirror and cry
Grab my wrist to see how wide it was
Didn’t eat sugar, flour, or fat
Didn’t go out, or people would see me
I sat at work and thought in class
Grabbing at my own stomach and thighs
Ten years later I saw pictures of me back then…
I was beautiful the whole time.
Tanya Chambers is a freelance writer who has specialized in memoir and poetry since she was a child. She has a bachelor of science degree in creative nonfiction from University of Pittsburgh, and was published in Views and Voices magazine in 2007 for an article she wrote about traveling in Israel. You can find more of her work on her online writing portfolio, or on her Soundcloud for more poetry.
by Carly Dee
All images by Julia Busato
I first came across Julia Busato’s photography on Facebook. I saw an image of a naked woman holding a mannequin figure in front of herself, looking directly at the camera, with her middle finger raised. The model’s pose was confronting, not only was she not conforming to society's expectations, but she was actively rejecting them. Excited by such a display of brazen empowerment, I wanted to find out more. The image I saw, is part of Canadian photographer Julia Busato’s project, the Mannequin Series “showcasing women who don’t want to fit the mold”. Julia kindly agreed to speak to BLYNKT about this series, and her motivations behind it.
What was the catalyst that prompted you to start this project?
It all started with an Instagram image that I saw on #effyourbodystandards. It was of a stunning plus sized model who had a tiny mannequin in front of her.
I have this amazing plus sized friend who works with me as my make-up artist. Together, we decided to do a "FUCK YOU" to body standards using this mannequin that friends had given me about a year before. We created the image of her with her middle finger up, which started it all.
It has grown so much since then, hitting on issues from mental illness to many physical health issues. There are so many things that don’t get talked about, even in the year 2017. I want to bring more issues to the foreground, to have people see and talk about the things we try to hide away from.
What was it about mannequins that made you choose it to be the centre of the project?
To me, the mannequin represents society’s views on how we are supposed to look and feel about our bodies.
What do you think about the body positivity movement? Are you involved in it?
I seriously love where the body positivity movement is at the moment. I wish for nothing more than for it to continue pushing the envelopes to help more people with confidence and body acceptance.
I feel that I am involved in this movement not only with my series, but also by the type of photography I do outside of the series, with so many clients of different body types. It is important to me to bring out the very best in each and every one of my clients. I also try to bring a positive body message into my own life with myself and my children.
How did you choose your models?
At first, the subjects were people I knew who wanted to be a part of something different. As it started getting out there, more people stepped forward with interest. I did a few model calls for subjects.
Lately I have been cutting back from photographing subjects I have already photographed. I am looking for newer things that really hit home on important issues we face, not all about body positivity.
Why did you decide to include men in the series?
There are so many issues that men don’t bring to daily conversations and I really want to showcase all humans. I think it is important for everyone to see the struggles of both men and women.
What kind of reaction were you hoping for in the people who see the Mannequin Series?
At the start of this I wanted to showcase how so many people in this series are dealing with different issues, no matter their status in life. Now I want to use this series as a platform to get people talking about these issues. There is always someone you can relate to, on some level. I wish for this series to show people that they are not alone in their struggles.
Have you been surprised by any reactions to a particular image, if so, which one(s) and why?
I don’t think we can call it ‘surprised’. I knew there would be some resistance and some passion towards the photographs. I feel for each person who was bullied after allowing me the honor of photographing them, and letting their image be plastered over the internet. I feel that if there isn't a response to certain images, then I’m not doing my job right. Art is supposed to evoke an emotion, even if it is hatred.
Have you received any negative reactions to this series? If so, what about the images do you think is confronting for people?
I personally haven’t received a lot of negative feedback from the images; it is mostly directed at the subjects. It hurts me to know that some people who put their full trust in me to be a part of their journey were subjected to some awful bullying. I feel like I let them down and wish I could have protected them more. Each person that comes to me for this series is opening up to me, to be vulnerable.
What kind of feedback have you received from the models, and also the general public who are viewing your work?
Most of the feedback actually has been so supportive to me and the models. Unfortunately, some of the models had to back out of the series because of the reaction they got from their workplace or because of some harassing of their partners.
Were you moved in particular by any of the images and if so, which one(s)?
I am moved by all of my subjects, but there have been a few that have hit more close to home with me and made me sit and reflect on things from my past.
One was this very strong and beautiful subject who came to me with the idea that she wanted to speak to all sexually assaulted viewers. “Not Their Fault” was written on the mannequin. As a survivor, I was extremely proud of her for doing it. That particular image put me in a dark place in my own head for a few days, but I am so thankful for it.
Has this project had an impact on how you see yourself, or how you see other people?
In general it has a big effect on how I see myself, especially when I look in the mirror and start to disapprove of myself, or judge myself negatively. I think, "How in all good faith can I ask these wonderful people to strip down for me and show their most vulnerable states to me and the world, if I can't view myself through the same non-judgmental lens?" I have learned to accept a few more of my flaws as badges of honour now.
What would you like the legacy of this project to be?
I would like to have these images hold up the test of time and be seen by those who need to see them, when they need to see them. Each model is bringing forward a story that someone can relate to. Sometimes we need to see to understand. I feel that the people who are upset by the images should take a look at why the image and the subject affect them that way. There is a real opportunity for growth, acceptance and healing with this series.
Find more of Julia Busato’s work here, including further images of the Mannequin Series or on Facebook “Julia Busato Photography”.
Carly Dee is a London-born writer and the editor of BLYNKT magazine. She writes poetry and prose which focus on human relationships and interpersonal communication. Her work has appeared in Firewords Quarterly, The Avalon Literary Review and The Corner Club Press amongst others. She is also a spoken word artist and has performed in Berlin, New York and London.
by David DeFusco
Image by Reelika Ramot
She was a lawyer, newly divorced. Lila. I asked her out for dinner. She preferred Italian. Umbertos, I recommended, taking the lead. She had to stay late to prepare for an upcoming trial. She would meet me at the restaurant at 7:30.
I wore a blue blazer and a striped shirt, a thin tie and pleated khakis. In the bathroom mirror, I pulled my hair back and sneered like Clint Eastwood but my face was too round and my beard too patchy. I let it fall over my shoulders, arched an eyebrow, and brooded seductively. Fabio? At five-six, maybe not.
I slapped on too much Brut.
I arrived at Umbertos early and stood by the door. The heavy summer air smelled of garlic. An air conditioner jutting from a stucco wall hummed and dripped, and a neon sign for Bud Light pulsed spiritlessly. She pulled up in a Mercedes. I threw my shoulders back and crossed my arms, the Rolex heavy on my wrist. Her little black dress was tight around her athletic curves, and she walked briskly as if she were late for a court hearing, as if every movement was calculated to save time and therefore money.
She was several inches taller. Her smile was genuine but professional. I held out my hand, then lurched for her cheek. She offered it tentatively, and my lips landed hard. We laughed awkwardly, her bleached teeth contrasting starkly with her tan. When she reached for the door, I slid in from behind and grabbed the handle.
“It’s 1995, Bob. It’s okay.”
I needed to be the gentleman. I held the door open for her and followed her inside. We stood at the register, waiting for the hostess. The Vegas smiles of Jerry Vale, Dean Martin, Perry Como and Frank Sinatra hung on a paneled wall. An overweight couple sitting opposite each other in a booth looked at us dully, and a young mother of three at two tables pulled together scolded her child for spilling milk. A waitress, no older than eighteen, asked us how many. We said two at the same time. She told us to sit anywhere we liked.
I offered Lila a chair before I sat down. A fly skittered over a French Fry on the vinyl tablecloth. The waitress ran a rag over the surface, the fry spinning onto the floor. She handed us menus and said she’d be back with water.
“Can I see a wine list?” I asked.
She pointed to the back of my menu. They only served it in glasses. Lila forced a smile over the top of her menu. I was trying too hard. When the waitress returned with the water, she took a pen from her ear and a pad from an apron pocket. Lila ordered linguini—carb-loading, she said, for a 10-K that weekend. I ordered steak with a side dish of pasta, not the salad that I usually ordered. Lila would think I was a wimp. Over dinner, she said she had wanted to be an actress, but came from a family of lawyers. There were expectations. She hunched over her dish, as if cozying up with an expectation of intimacy.
“So I tell my client, first we can file an action in district court and move for an injunction against your competitor,” she said. She rested her elbow on the table, the fork pointed in my direction, a chunk of iceberg lettuce garnishing its tip.
As I cut my steak, I wondered if her ex-husband had been a worthy opponent during the divorce. I felt myself nodding too much.
“We need to show the probability of irreparable harm to your business, I tell him, while the case is pending,” she continued. “The injunction will prevent them from using the trademark, or else they’ll face a heavy fine.”
The fly returned to my plate. I waved at it, but it looped around my hand and landed on the rolls. “So what happened?”
“Three-quarters of the disputes I litigate could be resolved out of court through compromise, but people are emotional. I tell them in so many words if they want to give me their hard-earned money, I’ll gladly take it.”
She smiled confidently, as if she were a lioness stalking hapless prey. While I tried on identities, hers was fierce. I was simultaneously envious of and repelled by her avarice.
“The trial starts next week,” she said.
We had met online. She liked that I was a novelist. I appreciated her intelligence and success. I quickly suggested getting together. I didn’t like drawn-out email exchanges.
“Someday I want to write, but after I’m done working,” she said. She bit into a meatball. “This isn’t bad for a place like this. How’s yours?”
I could tell she didn’t mean to trivialize my occupation. As I told her about my novel--Senate Recall—about a closeted gay man who wins confirmation to the Supreme Court only to discover that he has AIDs, she looked squeamish.
“Awful disease,” she said.
She perked up when I mentioned that it got a brief notice in The New York Times. We left food on our plates. When I refused her offer to pay half, she excused herself and went to the bathroom. A straight friend had warned me that I was morally obligated to disclose my identity at the point of intimacy. I waved him off, not anticipating there’d even be an opportunity. In the year since the transition, I had just wanted to live like a man, be a man without distraction. I dated only a few times. Gay women, mostly, but they could tell my status right away. The butches wanted to control me, and the femmes wanted someone who was more masculine.
I decided that if just for the evening, I needed companionship. As I waited, I stretched my back, stiff from sitting erect throughout dinner. Don’t slouch, my friend had told me. Take up space. I walked Lila to her car.
“I had a good time,” I said, waiting for a sign. “Good luck with your case.”
She dug her keys out of the purse. “You want coffee? My place?”
I closed her car door, and got into my Supra. I followed her to her gated community and up a winding driveway alongside a fine trim lawn. The house was Tudor style, gabled and with several chimneys, clad in brick. She tossed her purse on a jeweled stand in the foyer, half the size of my apartment, and told me to pick out a movie in the living room while she put on a pot of coffee. She asked how I like mine. Black, I said.
“I like a man who likes his black,” she called out from the kitchen.
Everything about the living room was large. It had a high ceiling and a sea of plush carpeting, a long sectional couch that looked unused, a hulking cabinet containing a wide screen TV, two credenzas with china, figurines and framed photographs, and a fireplace with vases sprouting lilies on the mantle. An Edward Hopper painting of a house on Cape Ann, startling in its size, commanded the wall above the fireplace.
I picked out Moonstruck and sat on the couch. She came into the room with a pewter tray holding a coffee pot, two mugs, napkins and spoons. She placed it on a glass coffee table and poured my cup, then sat beside me. I curled my finger inside the ring of the mug. I was conscious not to cradle it in both hands, as I had seen women do. She drew up her legs and took off her heels.
“I love Cher.” I wondered if I should have admitted that. I stared at the opening credits.
She stretched her arm over the back of the couch. I felt her hand on the back of my head. “I like your hair. It’s soft.”
“Olympia Dukakis. Nicolas Cage.” I pointed at the TV. “Brilliant.”
Ten minutes into the movie, she took the mug from me and set it on the table. Then she leaned in. We started kissing. It was tender at first, but quickly became frenzied. She was lean, but strong, and her kiss was more carnivorous than sensual. When she put her hands on my chest, I thought I felt my breasts, the way I was told people feel a lost limb. It sent a charge between my legs. I pulled back.
“What’s the matter?” she asked.
I felt like a virgin terrified of losing control in a spasm of ecstasy. The testosterone hadn’t prevented me from getting wet. I thought of my straight friend.
“Lila, I need to tell you something.”
“Let me guess, you’re not over your ex.”
“No, nothing like that.”
“Then what?” she said curtly.
“I find you very attractive—”
“Here it comes.” She rolled her eyes. “The stroke and a kick.”
“Hold on.” I held out my hand like a cop in traffic. “Let me ask you something. Do you tell your clients they’d be better off working out a compromise? Without you?”
She frowned. “Not quite, but what does that have to do with this?” She gestured toward me and then at herself.
Her admission that she withheld information from her clients gave me an opening. In that moment, intimacy was not only worth the risk of humiliation, but a necessary affirmation of my new life.
“Never mind,” I said, reaching under her dress.
She fell back on the couch. No panties. I kissed her neck and mounted her. She writhed and moaned, frantically sliding her hands over my face and back. She cupped my backside and then, seemingly in a moment of recognition, she quickly slid her hand between my legs. I didn’t have time to react.
A look of horror.
I lifted off her, and she retreated on her elbows. She avoided eye contact as she slipped on her heels and straightened her hair. Betrayal was deep in her voice.
“How dare you?”
“I was going to tell you,” I said, as I tucked in my shirt.
“You need to leave now.”
She stood by the open door, arms folded, head down. I paused to apologize, but she looked away.
“It’s easy for you,” I said. “All I want is what you want.”
I passed into the night more confused about my place in the world than when I first confronted my real identity as a teenager. As I drove home, my hands were shaking. I remembered feeling liberated after my breasts were removed. In that heady state, I naively assumed the world would change in the same way I was changing. I was a man, not a woman playing a man, but I understood her reaction, understood why she’d think I was counterfeit.
Before I had transitioned, I was by my very being fraudulent. God didn’t have to answer to His carelessness, I heard my teen-age self crying to my Catholic mother.
Dave DeFusco is the communications manager for the Johns Hopkins School of Education, and has spent a career in higher education promoting ideas and research that help humankind. He also likes the academy's civilized hours and lunches with clean-shaven people. He holds an MFA in creative writing and is now pursuing the truth wherever he can find it through short stories and a novel still in development about a madcap chase through the sewers of Paris.
You say it is benign,
but it looks as ugly
as something sinister,
brown spots spouting
their dark hues all over
with each passing year.
I’ve kept them, like
souvenirs you wouldn’t
want to touch. I’ll
keep them covered
for your sake, not
mine. I am used
to the tough, rough
spot that creeps
onto the body,
sunny past and
Whose idea of
beauty is it where
the skin is as
unblemished as an
The Hourglass of My Figure Has Swallowed a Pear
I can see you, darling, going gray,
white specks darting in, our white
lies growing old. Tell me
I’m still beautiful, as you are,
though the past swings like a ball
on a pendulum rope.
How peachy the past now seems.
My skin is hanging.
The day is wrangling
cattle. I once wanted to ride a horse,
to rope a calf. I once wanted to
roam the West. Now I’m a jewel
of the East Coast, a sparkly
suburbanite with tennis shoes.
I work at a job that pays
less than it should, but
I don’t commute. I hated
that commute, riding the train
at twenty, my future rolling out
like the country, my silver horse
prancing into Man-
hattan as I sparkled through
town. I was as fabulous as the wealthy,
with my Fifth Avenue future, skin
clear as a country sky, smooth
as a dancer’s body under
lights. The boy with the earring
stared me down on the subway.
Was I not as beautiful?
Donna J. Gelagotis Lee’s book, On the Altar of Greece, winner of the Gival Press Poetry Award, received a 2007 Eric Hoffer Book Award: Notable for Art Category and was nominated for a number of awards. Her poetry has appeared in publications internationally, including antiTHESIS, Feminist Studies, Jacket, Magma Poetry, The Massachusetts Review, and Mediterranean Poetry. Her website is www.donnajgelagotislee.com.
By Chuck Nwoke
The look was all the rage last season, pitting her rebellious feminist against her outward femininity. There was only one question she pondered: How was a black girl who shaved one side of her thick, curly hair supposed to go about growing it back, and doing so evenly? It took nearly a decade to grow her hair long, a fact her mother didn’t hesitate to mention whenever giving the space to talk. “You’re blessed with good hair,” she reminded her only daughter for the millionth time. “Never once had a weave.”
It wasn’t like the Chinese star-looking tattoo on the small of her back that she regretted getting in college and tucked out of sight until she mustered the courage to go through the pain to remove it. Besides, so many others had done it, women blacker than her, with hair that didn’t grow back as fast. When the time came for an evened out regrowth, women would figure it out together, same as they always had. And just like that she dismissed her mother. She didn’t want a white woman talking to her about good hair anyway.
Her stylist insisted her remaining hair was best dyed: bright purple, green, orange or pink – a color that popped. The hairstyle was worn best with black. White, if striped with black. She needed a reliable pair of all-occasion boots. Black. Leather. New wave or no wave? She couldn’t decide and did both. The total cost for her new look and wardrobe: she didn’t know, she put it on her credit card. On social media, her new profile picture racked up a hundred and fifty likes. “Sexy mama,” one mom-friend wrote. The comment itself received dozens of likes. She felt cool, current, edgy.
Until edgy was out, and edgier was in. Punk rock. So her magazines said, unanimously. Beauty blogs insisted she shave the other side of her head, distress her expensive jeans and spray-paint wild colors all over her white pieces. DIY. Striped pieces could stay as-is. So could her boots. They were wearing in perfectly.
“Throw Everything In Your Closet Away,” her paper’s weekend style headline read, declaring the season “white trash.” Only in New York City and L.A. was white trash cyclically chic. What had evolved into a mane-ish mohawk atop her head didn’t work anymore. Her stylist suggested she take hair off the top. Her new mullet screamed for hats and she devoted her next few paychecks to building a collection of expensive headwear – hats she wore with the price tags left dangling for all to see, just as the style called for, and white double-laced Kaepa sneakers, with snap-in color changing logos.
Kaepa had stopped making the shoe thirty years ago and only a thousand were still available, stored in the company’s warehouse in North Texas; then a famous actress was spotted wearing a pair in a “Celebrities Are Just Like Us!” magazine segment. The teen star was standing alongside a road, crying after fatally rear-ending a smart car with her SUV while texting.
Her pair of Kaepas was number eight hundred and nine and because of its rareness cost just as much. Adding to the look, were an assortment of plaid flannel shirts, expensive versions of the kind her high school sweetheart wore. What’s he up to? she wondered, and cast a wide internet search for him after her husband fell asleep on the couch.
Scrolling her fashion photo-sharing app before getting out of bed to start her morning, she pinned a new pair of jeans that had come out, and then later that day purchased pairs in black, and blue, and acid washed. The jeans fit skintight and had horizontal rips at the bottom of both butt cheeks, from one end to the other, so when she walked she flashed a little something. Heavier since having children, for the first time her rump was the envy of the have-nots, and want-mores, the It appendage de jour. “Cheeky jeans,” as they came to be known, were so popular they were on backorder everywhere, from Target to Forever 21, Marc Jacobs to Prada. Wearing the jeans, she snapped a picture of her backside in a mirror and, blocking her husband and daughter on social media, posted it immediately. Nearly three hundred likes.
The upcoming season was all about sporty androgyny. Always en vogue, she let the top of her hair grow back, then shaved the back for an Elvis-style pompadour. Three hundred dollars, her stylist charged, a deal since he was a “friend.” He’d already done six that day at five hundred a pop. “Business is booming, girl,” he told her. She rocked nothing but activewear, leggings mostly, leotards sometimes, lots of patterns and prints and hot fluorescent colors, worn with an assortment of sneakers that were just as bold and bright. The deluge of likes and comments her gym selfies got was intoxicating.
Summer hit hard and Boho-chic was in. Again. She stocked up on long, flowing skirts, fashionably saggy hammer pants, and roomy sleeveless tops that hung off her shoulders for a little flirty edge – or nerdy flirt, if she wore her newest accessory: a pair of big black-rimmed glasses. Prescription or without lenses, the geek look was hot. She visited her stylist, told him she trusted him and didn’t want to see the result until he was finished. He’d given her the “Krishna blowout.” The style was ubiquitous; everybody had it. The cost: three hundred dollars. But money was no object. Her friend had hinted that her boots could sell on eBay for three times the original price; after five days of intense bidding, the boots sold for five times the original amount. Boondles were what they were calling her new boot and sandal hybrid.
By the end of summer, pregnancy had made her weary, too lazy to keep up with the latest fashion. The dog days continued through fall, pushing her to shave her head completely. On an expecting-another-baby budget, she enlisted the help of her husband’s head-shaving expertise. With his assistance, she wore variations of military crew cuts, bowls then bobs, cycling through her high school, college, and freewheeling twenty-something hairstyles, until she could afford to visit her stylist.
Back at her salon, she overheard a woman request the hairstyle so-and-so from such-and-such had. The triple-threat pop star in question, a third her age, had shaved a clown-like bald spot into the top of her head and dyed her hair white. Makeup to match called for rosy cheeks and bubble gum red lipstick colored just outside the lips’ borders for fullness. She texted her husband with a picture of the hairstyle and asked what he thought about the new look. “She looks like a clown,” he replied, but she didn’t trust the opinion of a man who worked out incessantly and dieted like a teenage girl with an eating disorder. Why should she? The pop star’s look had broken the Internet, according to the Internet
Plus, the TV star that had inspired every iconic hairstyle for a decade had jumped on somebody else’s bandwagon and wore the hairstyle. So did the First Lady, and women idolized her, wanted to be her. Her nemesis at the gym that always worked out in full makeup and never sweat had the style. Her celebrity doppelgänger too, whose personal style mirrored how she would have dressed in high school if she had had more confidence. Her best friend back then, Angelique de la Bonette, had confidently worn an early prototype of the style. She recalled hating how boys noticed Angelique de la Bonette, especially the boys she liked. Desperate for advice back then, she wrote to Seventeen magazine’s advice column. In the next issue, it was suggested she make other friends, less threatening friends, friends beneficial to her self-esteem. Validated, she laminated the article, treasuring it well into adulthood, applying the advice until she’d rid herself of the wrong kind of friends, them and their so-called honesty.
Reminded of Angelique de la Bonette, she got nostalgic and wished they had stayed close. Curious as to what Angelique de la Bonette was up to, she found her on social media. To her surprise, they lived in the same city but in different boroughs. About Angelique de la Bonette: model, actress, comedian, science writer, divorced mother of three, and yoga instructor. Strong adolescent feelings for Angelique de la Bonette instantly resurfaced.
She couldn’t bring herself to friend Angelique de la Bonette, but the algorithms based on her social media search prompted Angelique de la Bonette to friend her. She didn’t accept. Not right away. Not until she stopped eating and lost the remainder of her baby weight. Then went shopping. Visited her salon. “Girl, go out into the world and fuck it to death!” her stylist ecstatically screamed after he’d worked his magic.
Her latest style in place – lots of drapey cold tones, eighteenth century breeches, and loud wooden Dutch clogs, similar to the pair she borrowed from Angelique de la Bonette in eighth grade and never returned – she went to her daughter’s room and asked her to take a picture for her to post. It had been a while since she posted pictures of herself.
“You mean selfie?” her daughter corrected.
“No,” she clarified, “I want you to take a picture of me.”
“Duh,” her daughter sassed, rolling her eyes. “Yah, selfie. Nobody says ‘picture’ anymore.”
Friend request accepted. One hundred and seventy-five likes. Thirty comments.
Chuck Nwoke was born in Nigeria and raised in Houston,TX. A sponsored skateboarder, music writer and award-winning screenwriter in his former lives, he’s been published by Broome Street Review, Litro Magazine, Akashic Books, Bull, cahoodaloodaling, Streetlight Magazine, Huffington Post and Salon, and is a 2017 nominee for Best of the Net fiction. He lives in Brooklyn, NY and is currently on scholarship in the Pratt Institute's MFA Writing program. Follow him @chucknwoke.