Self-examination in a hip new bar


Illustration by Jill Arteche

By Catherine Tan

I think I’ve settled on an answer. I can’t ever be a Victoria’s Secret Model. I suppose it’s primarily because I can’t imagine myself walking in an airport wearing high heels, see, which is the unwritten contract VS models sign when they ambition to become an Angel. I cannot for the life of me picture a world where I walk in an airport in high heels, pushing my cart of bags, with the clanging of the cart’s tin metals consubstantial to the sound of my high-arched, high-taloned feet hitting the floor. Such an ungraceful, unbecoming noise. If I could choose a sound that would be my life anthem – to be resuscitated in the mind during moments of grave duress -- it would be the soft padding of paws, from a large feline perhaps, that would occasionally crunch grass beneath them. I suspect this would be the sound that accomplishes a mild flattening of the earthen soil, as if this act alone could uphold the horizontal dignity of an ever-tilting world.

And I suppose I can’t be a VS Model too because – how would I react if Disneyland baited me with Premiere Priority Tickets for all rides for 48 hours – and I had to wear them heels again? I imagine I won’t last an hour in them. The temptation would be too strong and I would cave in and fling my Jimmy Shoooeees upwards, race to the nearest stall selling those padded Mickey Mouse slippers and pretend they were large feline paws, and pad about artificial castles wearing them ---

And then there are those physiological barriers to entry in this lucrative job market. I cannot for the life of me smile the way these models smile. I have studied it, see. On the surface, a VS model smiles the way a normal person does, but that is deceit. That is pure, evil deceit. What it really is, is a smile overpowering a grimace, which means that a grimace has to come first all the time, and then one had to bulldoze it with a smile. So the entire career of camera-ready mouths rests on a careful dialectic tension between two competing emotions, two orthomuscular dynamics, and I can’t for the life of me deal with that much stress right now.

What else, what else. There’s my height, too. I suppose I’d have to stretch myself into a laffy-taffy… There’s the need to master the jutting out of the pelvic bone in the right angle. A 33.5 degree-angle to the side would be ideal for walking as an off-duty supermodel, because this is the same angle that allows the model to carefully drape her leather jacket by her shoulder as she prowls in the city while faux-evading the paparazzi. An angle marginally different from this would render the jacket-draped-over-shoulder aesthetic pretentious, quel horreur for our young wildling.

But on a catwalk, one might need to temper with the angles with more fuss and hypothesis. The model has to experiment, put succinctly, and swing her hips from side to side more often, so as to create a vaster space in which to invite the male gaze. And while I may have erudite knowledge on these matters, executing them is entirely a different matter yes sir.

I suppose my train of thought has been thus far inadequate. For these are the relatively more easy reasonings. The weight of my problem becomes larger, see, as I realize that I have to negotiate with a larger catastrophe. These physical things such as the ability to endure ungraceful noises, and immense vertical pain, and careful angulation, all originate from a kern in a supermodel’s soul. And so I’ve decided I have to possess that soul in order to become a Victoria’s Secret angel, and since that is nigh on impossible, that is the true reason why I can never be a Victoria’s Secret angel.

Suddenly I wonder how said soul thinks like and speaks like (for I certainly know how it looks like, and so do you, care of the soul-catching paparazzi cameras). What is the decision-making process of a VS supermodel? Perhaps the answers could reside in her body. Perhaps, the ontology of a supermodel soul is its ability to prune excesses. The model must prune excess weight, I suppose, and also excessively long sentences and intricately complex systems of thought. Which explains why supermodels speak so rather simply and with carefully placed charm on each selected word. I get all that body image hoopla now! The slimness of a model is meant to be a metaphor for a specific kind of existence that eschews weighty categories and dense definitions. So I suppose all the rip-roaring ruckus by those against slim bodies are failing in their campaign because they’re targeting the wrong arguments. It’s not just about the body, see, it’s about symbols!and metaphors and existential discursive texts! So if the positive body image campaign wanted to win, it had to attack the metaphor with a new metaphor of their own.

Because words, I suppose, can be measured in grams, and those that are more ambiguous carry in them either more gunpowder and explosive mini-devices, to better explode into a plurality of meanings. And words like “centered”, “sunshine”, “grace”, and “kale smoothie” are lighter, for those who employ them would certainly not enjoy an explosion on their well-massaged faces upon the turn of the page, and so they have been carefully stripped of explosive devices. And it makes sense, now that I think about it, why such lighter words appear more frequently in glossy magazines as opposed to hard-cased tomes (talking to you, Marcel Proust!) --- for the stickiness of a glossy magazine’s pages can pin the wispy words onto the page without inciting any form of struggle. Heavier words need far heftier lodgings, and sometimes settle inside the human body, inside which they can cause cosmic upheaval and even tinker with the mechanical wirings. Imagine what might happen if such inner-wiring-tinkerings occurred in the VS supermodel mid-photoshoot? Why, the gram-heavy words might dictate her to leave or thrash the place or instigate an anarcho-syndicalist war on the entire industry! Ha! And now, with these synaptic firings of the mind – likely caused by kilograms of words -- it is clear as sunshine grace to me why a VS supermodel sticks to a diet of thinly minced words.

Now, now I suppose my little alone time in this bar isn’t unproductive after all? Already, I’ve devised a framework for understanding the soul of a supermodel. Now if I were to heed the pliant frames of my own deductions (or is it inductions?) I suppose I would have to forget the contents of my soul altogether, entirely. That means having to forget my journalistic background: Step 1, stifling the skill that allows me to manipulate humans into giving me information. I suppose this requires a whittling down of the Intimidating Aura lodged fixedly in my solar plexus. Such usefulness in the journalistic world, but of a negative utility for a world that prizes its opposite.

Then there is that matter of my needing to excise events that have impinged impressionable burns on my soul, like that one time when I went in deep, investigative journalism-level deep, to cover two Jesuit priests in their search for a serial killer in the urban center. Just a slight breeze with the sight of tropical trees have of late become triggers to my memory and I’m immediately whisked away to that danger zone where I am always behind the two forensic theologians, tracking their moves. The mere shake-shake-shake sound of a bartender mixing drinks for youthful, convivial libation reminds me of the deep rumbling of the ground produced amidst ----

gunfire. And bloodshed.

Hmm there appears to be something wrong with this memory. And upon cognizance of that, there at the stump of my throat is a repressed chuckle, for I’m remembering it all wrong! I wasn’t covering a serial killer trail by Jesuit priests. My subconscious has stolen it from a contemporary novel that has been of recent acclaim. I was instead covering peace accords between government and rebels in the South when all of a sudden I was whisked away to the woods, to the site of gunfire and bloodshed, and in the deep rumble of forest and fire, I would try to sit still and decipher the logos of the earth to see how better attune to it, see, how better to connect with it so that it shifts to my side. So there I was eavesdropping on nature and its processes, hearing the soft crushing of leaves that my soul had at the time wished were those of a padded feline. How cosy would it be, to nestle warm with it at the heart of my self-manufactured mischief and mayhem? I could feel the tautness of its feline muscles, the impeccable texture of its fur, and I could feel the coming of a formidable future of lifelong partnership between Woman and Desired Metaphor for Her Self. But before this imagery lulls me to a peaceable repose, I feel just a small amount of anxiety teasing at the elbow nestled near this feline’s tail, berating me for confounding several layers of memory. See this is why you can’t be a Victoria’s Secret model, it squeaks, you can’t even remember yourself right! What more the roles you would play each shoot, each day?

And if I could confound such a thing as crucial as this, what else could I have confounded? Perhaps I’m no urban Thoreau after all, perhaps I’ve asked the wrong question, and in lieu of what I can’t ever be, I should have made like Descartes and wallowed in a sea of decided doubtfulness…and asked what can I ever be truly sure of.  Am I truly in a hip new bar in an abandoned factory warehouse or some void at the bottom of my nth alcoholic drink? After all not being a Victoria’s Model matters infinitesimally when you’re woozily slurring in an empty Cartesian plane.