Elliat Albrecht <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Saturday, Nov 15, 2014 at 1:53 AM
At some point I realized that enough time had passed since I left that you’d become reduced to a singular memory: compact, finite and shelvable. It’s late and you’re outstretched: depressed and edging towards thirty on the couch shaped to your body from overuse, blue light and laughter of talk shows flickering down the hallway while I lay alone in your room. It smells like wet towels and microwaved food. Sometime after midnight you turn off the TV and come to bed, roll towards the wall and clutch a pillow tightly to your chest like the kind of easy lover I wasn’t, not even near the start. I craved and writhed in your scanty embraces until eventually they stopped coming altogether. Laundry and looseleaf neuroscience notes on stress hormones littered the floor.
The line formed outside around 6:00 AM the day that the Victoria’s Secret store opened on Robson Street. There were security officers controlling the flow of young women at the doors and I, on the curve of a recoup from a hungry and too-common bodily dissociation, untouched, buying $40 massages in one of those places near City Hall to feel human hands on my skin, told you that I wanted some revolution for the teenage girls who TiVo the Victoria’s Secret fashion show. I wanted to delete every pastel-coloured Tumblr of pretty, thin bodies. I told you over dinner my elaborate plans to systematically extract the corporation from the cultural understanding of sex by removing all of the Victoria’s Secret Angel workout videos from the internet. My own troubled flirtation with modelling has lasted more than a dozen years; now more an affair that I avoid breaking off - it calls, I answer. My participation in the system of image commodification has been nothing if not uncomfortable and suspicious.
The pictures of Victoria’s Secret Angels that flutter around the internet and beneath the glossy sheen of catalogues are a brilliant but misinformed marketing initiative; their acceptance as sensual ideals are unresponsive to changes in the ways that people live and understand gender. They offer a pronounced sense of exclusion and reassurance that fat is bad, that pretty is king, that good, heteronormative sex is expensive and exclusive to those attractive enough to do it right. The Angelic bodies present the epitome of health: rigorous workouts, high ponytails, cold-pressed juice, low-calorie dreams. Healthy sex is served up as an art-directed photoshoot. The visuals of real sex, unfettered by media, don’t airbrush stretchlines lining hipbones, flush and bumps of untrained flesh, warm desired bodies unique and awkward. I imagine a cash register chiming every time that a woman looks at an underwear ad of sculpted bodies and feels badly about her responsibility or incapacity to please.
When I think of sex symbols, I lazily skip thousands of years and always come back to Salome: the biblical character known for convincing her stepfather to sever the head of St John the Baptist. Her drama (and I’m taking some liberties in condensing the following passage from the bible) goes like this:
“The daughter of the Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod, who said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee. And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist. And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist. And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath's sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her. And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, and brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother.”
History called her a whore, repeatedly. She danced the dance of the seven veils and was an OG femme fatale throughout art and literature. Oscar Wilde wrote a hopelessly tragic play about her. Her unapologetic use of body as tool is cited as an example of the evils of female sensuality. Dutch writer Joris-Karl Huysmans beautifully described Salome’s cultural significance in his 1884 novel, Against the Grain:
“No longer was she merely the dancing-girl who extorts a cry of lust and concupiscence from an old man by the lascivious contortions of her body; who breaks the will, masters the mind of a King by the spectacle of her quivering bosoms, heaving belly and tossing thighs; she was now revealed in a sense as the symbolic incarnation of world-old Vice, the goddess of immortal Hysteria, the Curse of Beauty supreme above all other beauties by the cataleptic spasm that stirs her flesh and steels her muscles, - a monstrous Beast of the Apocalypse, indifferent, irresponsible, insensible, poisoning.”
The first time I went to New York I left you at home with the crumpled notes on your floor. I was alone when I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art and saw Henri Regnault’s 1870 painting of Salome.
I’d never seen so much gold in my life.
It was like the time I told you that I felt like the Rubiks cube in my brain suddenly lined up, each colour paired and elated to be touching its match. My chest filled with air. The balls of my feet lifted off the ground when I looked at hers slipping out of her slippers. Those feet. From underneath layers of gold skirt, a porcelain foot stepped in or out of soft cloth. Porcelain only in colour, because her foot wasn’t smooth but the muscled device of a dancer. After all, she did just careen to have a man beheaded. Part wild tendrils, part 80’s rocker, Salome’s hair parted in the middle and fell in curly untamed cascades onto her shoulders. As for the drapery of her dress: I hate yellow, god I hate yellow but I wanted to lift the fabric falling off her shoulder just to touch the hue. I thought of the passage from Elizabeth Gouge’s novel Green Dolphin Street:
“He was glad he was alive. He was glad that the roots of his being were in this place and no other. He felt the passionate surge of life and creation that had brought him to this place and to this hour beating within him like an imprisoned bird trying to get out. Once again he wanted to do something, to save someone from wild beasts or drowning or something like that. But there weren't any wild beasts and no one was drowning. There was not a soul within sight…”
“(considerable pause) …[it’s] an experience of delight and well-being and rightness. It's like listening to music. Like going to an opera and coming out of it and feeling somehow fulfilled, that what you experienced was necessary; it sustained you for a while. You can't explain it to someone who did not experience it. you cannot say that they played this and they did that. You can say that they played this and they did that but it won't make any sense at all.”
Regnault was killed during the Franco-Prussian War, months after his painting of Salome was exhibited to great acclaim at the Salon of 1870. For years, the painting was considered a masterpiece of contemporary art.
This is what I’ve been listening to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6yfFWvoygY