I was running late to my appointment with the modeling agent. I worried that my usually exotic looks would wilt in the humidity of the summer day. I struggled to keep my portfolio from becoming soaked and crumpled from being carried under my thin arm. If I ever made it to the office, I needed to look good. Not paying attention to where I was going, I almost ran directly into the building. I stepped closer to the street and looked up to read the heading.
How strange that I never noticed the mall there before. My heart beat in excitement. Dare I think fate was intervening in my career by placing me in the very place where I could actually be discovered by a designer and skip the step of the agency? This had to be my lucky day. I tossed my auburn locks and pretended the strands did not stick heavily to my sweaty neck as I put on “the walk” and entered the doors.
To my right were the windows to a gym, where some girls my age and even younger seemed to be trying to think the food out of their too skinny frames. They squeezed their stomachs and pinched their thighs, all the while frowning their concentration on the task before them. Others pounded on the machinery, not even sweating while working out relentlessly with blank expressions. Modeling shots lay askew at their feet, highlighting girls as beautiful as I. But in reality, hair that should have been shiny was dull instead, and the glow of youth was missing from their beings.
I looked at my comrades. It was obvious that, in order to maintain the image of the perfect beauty, most of them were murdering their bodies, hoping to obtain perfection.
I smelled the food being prepared in the food court for people who actually ate, and then heard the air brakes of a city bus. Tumbling from its innards came a crowd of beautiful girls, as skinny and exotic as I, heading directly for the gym. Modeling portfolios were tucked under their arms. I decided to take the rest of the short cut through the mall to take advantage of the air conditioning before continuing my trek to the modeling agency.
The bus left.
To my left were the windows to a restaurant, where beautiful older women pushed food around on their plates and smiled plastically at one another. Every time a young man would appear from behind the walls of the kitchen, every one of the women would strike a mannequin like pose in attempts to gain the male attention. Only their eyes held any life, as they shot lightning bolts around the room at the other women, punctuated by the expressionless faces frozen in time. Cosmetic surgeon pamphlets lay askew at their feet, highlighting more ageless faces, seemingly eternally beautiful. But in reality, faces that should have been marked by wisdom and love and laughter were cold and lifeless instead.
I looked at these women. It was obvious that, in order to maintain the image of the perfect beauty, most of them had squashed their zest for life, hoping to find everlasting beauty.
Again, the smell of food distracted me, and I wondered briefly at my short journey. This would be my destination if I kept on the path I travelled. All the same, I must admit that the second view was more wicked than the first.
I silently placed my modeling portfolio in the nearest wastebasket and headed toward the food court, firmly resolved to have lunch and start searching the want ads for another job.
Villiers de L’Isle-Adam. “The Very Image” (1883). Trans. Robert Baldick. From Cruel Tales. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985