Hail Harper's

Article by Erin Keating, appeared in issue Issue #2; published in 1996; filed under Social commentary; tagged beauty standards, body image, fashion, fashion models, Harper's, magazines.
An Ode

My arm fell asleep, I got so engrossed. This issue of Harper's Bazaar is about as big as a bible—and just as full of prophecy.

I fall in love with the models, their blackened eyes and plaster pigment, all pinched and compressed into vinyl and leather, looking hot hot hot and totally unfazed. They are the visions of me that I will never see.

Disaffected by the sheen and blasé in the fashion world of which they are queens and divas, they are desperately caressed by the camera's lens and the gaze of the drooling paparazzi. And they're above it all—the perfect young faces of the latest, biggest trend since grunge turned glam are otherworldly. They transcend the page. Their empty stares indicate that they have something better they'd rather be doing, somewhere more glamorous to go—a date with Johnny Depp, perhaps.... Or maybe they are retreating toward a rich inner life, a sacred place they go to when they're under the hot lights of praise. A model's sort of Zen. Are they chanting in their minds? What more could they possibly want?

I eat these tomes up like fudge-striped Chips Ahoy, because if they are selling me dissatisfaction with myself and promises of transformation, I am buying.

I try to be faithful. I do the rituals: I bleach my hair, I pluck my eyebrows, I buy MAC lipstick, convinced that if I were more devout, I might be saved from my own self-loathing. Fashion could be my savior, Cindy Crawford my Jesus. Oh, Shalom Harlow, I confess. I want to be as beautiful as you!

If fashion was my savior, if it could transform my life into the perfect, unblemished nirvana of a Harper's photo shoot, I would buy buy buy until my credit cards were maxed and my loans went unpaid and forgotten in the face of a brand new me. I would sell everything I owned for the perfect Donna Karan wardrobe. I would be the most glamorous homeless woman on Market Street.

If fashion could make my dreams come true, I would wish on my $3,000 faux-leopard jacket for the confidence to publish my self-indulgent essays.

I would get down on my bony, stockinged knees and thank Hermès for the nerve to get on the stage again.

I would genuflect, I would cross myself (Judaism be damned!) and wipe a tear from my gray-ringed eye as I kissed the pink satin glove of Betsy Johnson. "Thank you for helping me get a job I don't hate. Thank you, thank you for Louis—he's wonderful in bed."
But I'm afraid I don't have the fervor that faith demands. My body will not conform to the strict dogma of a trim size ten. My face will not cease to erupt despite my half-hearted devotion to Neutrogena products. My wallet refuses to open for any item over $25, no matter how glamorous. I balk at the overpriced pre-fab re-hash of Urbane Outfitters. Thrift store chic won't get me to heaven.

I don't have the discipline of a true believer. I can't seem to make the tithe. I must pay penance. Renew my subscription. I must repent.

Erin Keating is a writer and performer currently paying her dues in San Francisco.

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