Writer Lisa de Nikolits has a unique understanding of media images—for years, working as an art director at international editions of magazines like Vogue and Marie Claire, she studied them, lived with them, helped create them. Her brand new novel, The Hungry Mirror, is about a girl who—not coincidentally—works at a fashion magazine as a retoucher and falls into a spiral of body hate and disordered eating. I haven’t finished the book yet, but I’m sure there’s a happy ending (right Lisa?!).
Anyhow, she was sweet enough to craft this clever little short story just for the readers of HealthyGirl.org, about how we women can find ourselves sucked into the myth of perfection. Please, enjoy!
The Retoucher and Lady Macbeth.
A magazine art director was walking through the woods when she found Lady Macbeth, wringing her hands and wailing.
“Out, damned spot,” she was shouting. “Out, out, out.”
The art director stopped. “Lady M,” she said. “You need Photoshop. It can get rid of anything. Let me see your hands.”
Lady Macbeth looked hopeful and held out her hands. The art director was examining them when her alter ego, Miss Body Image Activist Supremo, joined them.
Darn, the art director thought. She’s always trouble.
“Don’t trust the art director,” Supremo told the queen. “Yes, she can take out the spot but it’ll snowball from there, mark my words. You’ll ask yourself where’s the danger, where’s the harm in it? Just a little bit and next you know, the real you will has vanished.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” the art director protested. “When are you going to get off that bandwagon? I keep telling you, it’s my job to sell fantasy, stop being so literal. And besides, it’s just a tiny thing here and there, nothing much really.”
“Yeah, right,” Supremo said. “A little whitening of the teeth, erase a couple of wrinkles under the eyes, near the nose, chin. Clean up the whites of the eyeballs. Add a few extra eyelashes for balance and symmetry. Hmmm, take out a fold of flesh in the neck, remove blemishes and sunspots. Reshape that widow’s peak, tidy up the hair. Tuck the tummy in, slenderize the arm. Yeah, right, hardly anything.”
“Out, out,” Lady Macbeth shouted, “I want it gone! Who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?”
Supremo and the art director turn back to her and Supremo grabbed her hand.
“There’s nothing there,” she said. “Not a thing.”
“But I can retouch it anyway,” the art director offered helpfully. “Sun spots, and so many veins. And the nails… I thought queens had manicurists ad nauseum.”
“What is nauseating is you,” Supremo said. “Sun spots are natural. How old are you anyway?” she directed her question at Lady Macbeth and the queen and the art director were horrified.
“You can’t ask her that,” the art director objected. “Besides, even if she admits to thirty, that’s the new twenty, we’re all trying to look a decade younger and that’s where I come in to lend a helping hand.”
Supremo looked like she was going to blow a blood vessel in her brain.
“Where do I even start with you? Don’t you get it? This is a beautiful woman, and you want to change her, replace her essence with bland generic boring sameness. That’s what you do, you take out every unique thing, every special little age spot that’s been kissed by the sun. You don’t want any of us to have any distinguishing features, we should all be the same.”
The art director shrugged. “It’s a matter of beauty,” she said. “And besides, it’s my job, that’s all.”
“Your job to make women out there feel ugly, damaged, scarred, bizarre, lumpy, bumpy…”
The art director held up her hand. “I don’t make them feel like anything,” she said, “and I am telling you, people don’t want to look at real. They just don’t, okay? Reality is blotchy and splotchy with a dull skin tone. People choose fantasy. I just put it out there.”
“You help women hate themselves and you peddle the myth that if they buy whatever product you’re selling, that they’ll love themselves.”
They were both shouting.
Lady Macbeth sighed. “Here’s the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. O, O, O!”
“Ha!” the art director exclaimed in triumph. “Even Lady Macbeth wants a small hand! A small hand! I can make your hand even smaller,” she said to the queen who didn’t seem to hear.
“To bed, to bed!” Lady Macbeth cried, “What’s done cannot be undone. To bed, to bed, to bed!”
Then she stopped and looked at Supremo and the art director. “Why are you talking to yourself?” she asked. “Oh well, never mind, I’m going to bed.”
I felt the jelly of my two selves merge and realized the mad royal was right. Supremo and the art director were one and the same person. One body housing two activists with polar opposite causes.
“So,” I said aloud, “I propose a commitment. I will retouch 25% less. Start off slowly and gradually build it up. It’s really a matter of what we are used to and we’ll get used to something different, something better, something real.”
I turned to tell the queen but she had vanished. If she ever existed at all.
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