Model Behavior

From my latest longread, up now at The New Inquiry, on beauty, artifice, femininity, queering, reality television and RuPaul. Enjoy. I did.

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“…..It seems oddly Protestant to argue, as some feminists do, that somewhere under all that artifice are “real women,” that one can peel away the layers of clothing and makeup and weave and hair and skin and silicone and dig out a “genuine” person, untouched by culture and context. Smart girls know that “real beauty” is just a tag line to sell moisturizer. Walk in high heels for long enough and the bones in your feet really do change shape. Spend enough time living as an efficient office worker, an obedient wife, a high-street fashion knockout and eventually the contours of your personality do change.

The idea of the self as something permanent, immutable, seems rather old-fashioned when anyone with an Internet connection can create a personal brand that works differently across multiple platforms, with different backdrops, favorite quotes and family snapshots, just as you might prepare one face to meet your friends and another to meet your father-in-law.

Online or offline, this Prufrockian trick is one to which women are more accustomed than men, having been raised to the task since the very first time an adult caught us in ribbons, in feathers, in our mother’s lipstick and said, “Smile for the camera.” The 14-year-old schoolgirls who are ordered to dress in uniform knee skirts and bobby socks in the daytime know perfectly well what they are doing when they post pictures of themselves in underwear taken from above, pulling that face that works so well at a 45-degree angle.

We can’t perfectly control our online selves any more than we can control the contours of our flesh. Bodies, like data, are leaky. Out of the mess of bodies and blood and bones and pixels and dreams and books and hopes we create this mess of reality we call a self, we make it and remake it. Each human being is a palimpsest of possible faces, of personas, and none of us were ‘born this way’…”

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