by on Nov.08, 2012


I have this problem with empathy. Yesterday I watched The Hunger Games movie for the first time and when they inserted the trackers into the forearms of the tributes I literally almost vomited all over the couch. And when we watched The Patriot in my 10th grade AP History Class I had to sit in the library all that week because I fainted on the first day. I have a low tolerance for physical depictions of violence because when I see it, I feel it, like in my stomach; it’s actual.

I have this obsession with fashion magazines. Not with the texts, necessarily (although I do love it when someone like Jeffrey Steingarten deliquesces on butter for Vogue), but with the advertisements. As with TV, I want it to sell to me; I’m primarily interested in consumable industry. I like to read a fashion magazine three times: first to judge the outfits, next to analyse the advertisements, and, finally, to assess the layouts and writing.

The girls in fashion ads are basically dead. They are able to sell clothes because they are nonentities; their bodies must be blank, hanger-esque, so that any given consumer might imagine the garments upon themselves.


Recently I have been carrying around the newly-translated and adorably pink Semiotext(e) Theory of the Young Girl. I started reading the illegal PDF that was circulating the internet when I stumbled across it a few years ago. For a long time, I have been thinking about the agency of Girls, what we’re allowed and what is expected, the limits of The Girl. When, for example, does the Valley Girl lose her modifier and become, merely (?) an uncanny valley of defective communication? Perhaps the bodily boundary isn’t a boundary at all but a membrane, a punctum-in-waiting.

I was baking brownies with my cousin when Joyelle told me about Regina Walters. I googled her name and found this incredibly fashionable photo of Regina looking queenly and apathetic in black pumps and a black dress, holding up her hands to the lens in a gesture something like “talk to the hand(s).” The New Yorker article denotes this as a “moment of terror,” but the terror feels absent, as though it has acquiesced totally to abjection. I was baking brownies with my hair curled in a pair of pink heart patterned micro fleece pajamas, with my cousin who is a young girl, the two of us twirling around the kitchen in our safe, warm home as an unexpected blanket of snow silenced the recently storm-ravaged Jersey Shore.

I was once a trapped, scared girl. Maybe I still am; probably.

When I look at the photo of Regina Walters I do not feel the metallic onslaught of my violent empathy. When I look at Amanda Todd’s YouTube video what I feel, instinctually, is judgment and jealousy, because she can’t really spell, and has superskinny arms. Admitting this is tantamount to committing a violence upon them myself. I have been consumed by industry, suffered physical entrapment and bodily injury, come out through the meatgrinder still in the form of a Girl but different; not a hanger or a fashion plate but a loaf, a pâté.

It’s not excusable. It’s not an excuse.

When I say I see these pictures and feel less than I do for a fictional character what I am saying is that I cannot tell the difference between a fashionable girl and a fictional character. What I am saying is that there is no difference between a fashionable girl, a fictional character, and a murder victim. What I am saying is that a murder victim is and has a form which is the form a girl takes in this American World. What I am saying is that I keep repeating myself as the form fractals out of control because I am a lesson to be learned; I am that dead girl.

A few days ago I was a disenfranchised Lower East Sider. Outside, my body felt permeable, then the membrane that got punctured thrust me into The World. I took refuge in Brooklyn then the Upper East Side where I stopped in a Duane Reade for mascara and found that everyone there was still happy and shiny. I took a bus to my hometown which was destroyed. I got off the bus with a bag of books and the dress on my back which I had been wearing for the three days since I’d left my apartment, keyless and phoneless because in The World I am a trapped & homeless & vulnerable girl. It may seem moronic to be both trapped and homeless and probably it is; still, it is something I have been on many occasions in my not-very-long life which feels, to me, impossible, & endless.

I am nervous to say all of this and apologetic for none of it. When I think about Amanda Todd and Regina Walters, when I am not looking at their bodies, I feel my heart rise in multitudes directly off the pants and sleeves of my pajamas and hit me in the face like a storm no one expected. I think about the disenfranchised bodies of girls and I think about my body and it is like a punch in the stomach I gave myself in the mirror, this morning or every morning when I was thirteen and flirting in chatrooms with men thrice my age. I was lucky and I was not. Amanda Todd is not alive but she lives. The internet is the kind of place for that.

Once, when I was super broke and tired of living but not tired enough to die, I decided to try that kind of life. I showed something insignificant of myself and found that it was not enough to live on. It seems easy enough to be a dying-dead girl waiting to either be murdered or saved. Maybe what we have to live on is the shame.

When I was a teen my favorite book was Ariel, and Mayra Hornbacher’s Wasted. In college that’s how my three best friends became my friends. What we liked about it was the permission to act dead.


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