I don’t know why it only occurred to me recently that this is my body. I have my reasons, of course— sex politics, gender politics, family politics, government politics, etcetera, etcetera. Unspecified cluster A and B personality disorders, autism, trauma. Etcetera. I’ve grown quite possessive of my flesh these days, though. I formulate my own meditations, call them enormous gestures— pushing my arms out to the sides as if I could eject them off my body through sheer willpower, holding my legs perpendicular to my torso against a wall until my legs go totally numb, pointing my toes past where my arches cramp. I do it all slowly and minutely, the kind of desperate precision that only comes with hysterics, documenting the way the impossible amounts of tendons in my body mechanize me like an expensive watch. Tenuous work, but work that must be done. I am still learning how to say mine. For example, this flesh is mine, and if it’s not, I’ll make it mine. Autonomy or I do something drastic, I say confidently, like I could recognize autonomy if it stood in my lunch and sang (lie). Affirmations. Deep breaths, in and out, in and out.
It’s quite impressive, really. I’m deep in the throes of passion with a manic episode— nasty fucker, this one, downright Nabokovic— hyphenated, parathetical, dead logical (Mad Hatter rationalism; picnic, lightning). On top of that, I’ve never been this hungry in recent memory. Hundreds of potential adjectives trail, a grammatical Hansel and Gretel— breadcrumbs of insatiable, ravenous, esurient, carnivorous, urgent, etcetera follow me; I will be eating the witch this time, though. And of course it’s insatiable, because one of the only things I’m good at that involves some sort of bodily awareness is recognizing and fulfilling appetites, and I always fulfill my appetites. No point in suffering. Martyrs are fake— God doesn’t care about that, I’ve decided. God doesn’t do shit because God is never inclined to do shit, which leaves it mostly up to me. Looks like my lunch is singing; what is that, a piece of lettuce? Is it edible?
In 1977, Ann Douglass released The Feminization of America, perhaps one of the most interesting works of cultural study to date. It’s a book with numerous points ranging from Calvinism to mass vs. elite art to sentimentality in 19th century literature, but I am focusing specifically on one part— the term “Teen Angel”, which seems to be especially relevant today. The Teen Angel is defined as a religious and proto-consumerist representative of the feminine ethic and spirit. She’s a heart-of-gold suburban youth, a do-it-all bourgeois girl that is completely absorbed with her own leisure, innocent and coy and occasionally doomed to either the corrupting influence of the outer world or some sort of illness. To my recollection Douglass didn’t mention race or sexuality, but it’s important to point out that the Teen Angel conforms to a quintessentially cishet white standard of femininity and adolescence. Additionally, the Teen Angel isn’t solely a teen, but basically any girl between the ages of 7 and 24.
In simpler words, here’s Brooke Shields statement in an approximately 1984 ad for Cosmopolitan Magazine:
Can a girl be too Busy? I’m taking seventeen units at Princeton, pushing on with my career during vacations and school breaks, study singing and dancing when I can, try never to lose track of my five closest chums, steal time for Michael Jackson and Thomas Hardy, work for an anti-drug program for kids and, oh yes, I hang out with three horses, three cats, two birds, and my dog Jack. My favorite magazine says “too busy” just means you don’t want to miss anything… I love that magazine. I guess you can say I’m That Cosmopolitan Girl.
I’m manic. I’m panicked. All this to say, I bleached my hair— took it from black to a dingy blonde over three days, thinking it would make me feel like all those beautiful women, like Marilyn or Jayne or Debbie or Madonna or Courtney or even Paris. I thought it would give me some blonde ambition or something, but all it gave me were chemical burns and a penetrative form of aggression.
And I’m still fucking hungry, so when the nape of my neck stopped weeping and scabbed over, I picked the scabs off and ate them.
It’s May. It’s horrifically beautiful out all the time, beautiful enough that a solid chunk of Canada and what seems like most of the Northern Plains are on fire. The sunlight is tinted orange. The irises are blooming, the lilacs are dying, the rose that part of my grandfather is buried under is crawling with aphids. They’re all blossoming and burning up because they don’t remember what it’s like to go to seed yet, and I am spinning dizzily higher, unstopping and unstoppable, suntan sick. I want to buy a new perfume or something, maybe Lost Cherry, something that makes me smell like a corpse. Maybe my summer project should be making perfumes— I want one with formaldehyde, musk, bitter almond, cherries, and a bit of honey. I want to smell as fake as a maraschino cherry. I want to be unreal.
Once you look for the Teen Angel, she shows up everywhere in various shapes and forms— Lolita’s Dolores Haze, Girl, Interrupted, the early stages of Lana Del Rey’s persona, The Virgin Suicides, almost anything involving white female adolescence stretching right back to Evangeline “Little Eva” St. Clare from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s landmark 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. (To summarize: Eva is the frail and angelic daughter of a Southern slave owner, who befriends the enslaved Uncle Tom through their common interest of Christianity. She dies from a mysterious illness due to her constantly delicate state and goes to her death with a firm Christian attitude towards suffering.) The ghost and legacy of Little Eva hovers over the Teen Angel, the Godly Barbie to end all Godly Barbies.
When I was about 3 or 4 years old, me and my best friend used to play an imaginary game called “High School”, which consisted almost solely of fantasies about being a beautiful cheerleader on a handsome football player’s arm and going shopping every single day at the mall. We drove convertibles and lived in Malibu and wore pink. Our imagined older selves were tan and blonde and straight-haired and skinny, not because we actively desired those things, but because no other form of adolescence had been presented to us— you were blonde, or you were something that didn’t exist. That was it. Those were the only options, and our three-year-old selves were not about to give up pink or living, so on went the Great Blonde Fantasy and our lives with it. In this manner, Little Eva hovered over us, too.
I have a delicious little fantasy about decomposition. In it, I lay so still for so long in a beautiful field that I die, and then all the little angels of God (maggots, ants, flies, decomposers, scavengers, etcetera) come to ferry my soul to wherever it needs to go, and to deal with my body. I get assessed and the grubs say oh what-ever that’s good enough, and then I slowly rot and get eaten by all the beautiful creatures and the only thing to show for it in a couple years is that the grass will be slightly greener where my body once was. I’ll be on the other side of the fence.
The important things: first of all, I choose. My death is my choice. God doesn’t care, so it’s my choice. Second, nobody touches me. The only reason I disagree with death is because it’s such a violation— people go through your belongings, your private life, your flesh. I don’t want to be surrendered to a bunch of grief-foolish gossip mongers. I can’t control it once I’m dead, and I always want to control it. Third, I hate being confined. I’ve spent my whole life in buildings like a rat in a cage, and I want to go everywhere— the best option I have is outdoor decomposition. Fourth is that I want it. And I want to get what I want.
Oh, that visceral want— God, it’s like the fucking pit at the bottom of my stomach decided to turn into a vaccuum. I want and I want and I want and I can’t have, can never have. I could kill someone about it. Or I could cry about it, I guess.
It’s infuriating. I want oysters. I want fresh bread. I want the basil and the tangy balsamic and the mozzarella and the tomatoes in my mouth all at once, I want figs, fresh and dried, I want cured meats sliced so thin that they melt on your tongue, and I want fluorescent red strawberries like beacons in the night. I want shortcake and whipped cream— I want a raw steak and I want to eat it with my bare hands— I want a cuban style sandwich with jalapenos and carmelized onions— I want to kill someone and put their femur on the grill— I want everyone to stop thinking I’m strange for being so hungry— oh I want I want I want a hand to hold but that’s too much to ask for— I want a cold Coca-Cola in a glass bottle and I want to drink it in the sun— I want to be good but the thought itself disgusts me.
I can’t be good anymore. Demurity— I’ve had enough of it. Eschew the hands in the lap and the legs crossed at the ankles, the patience, the lowered eyes and the table manners. Demurity and goodness are getting in my way.
To quote a dear friend’s analysis of The Virgin Suicides:
it is in our self-mythologising that can become fatal in the end. belief in beauty above all things⸺a desperation to achieve that platonic ideal of girlhood: delicate and ethereal; coquettish yet simultaneously innocent; delphic in their obscurity, and above all, completely lovely. when we are young we desperately want to be any of the sisters with their romantic blonde hair and effortless beauty, unaware that we are completely missing the point. we let the boys feed us the narrative and try to emulate it, unknowing that we have become part of the problem… whichever way the sisters might try to rebel against the boys’ image (thesis) of them fulfills the antithetical aspect of their nymphet role.
When I first encountered the concept of the Teen Angel, the Lisbon girls were the first to come to mind; maybe because I grew up listening to the soundtrack and watching videos of them set to unreleased Lana Del Rey songs, maybe because they’re the perfect example. They became Teen Angels in a literal sense, as well as the trope sense— suburban, naive, deeply discontented. Dead. And now the Teen Angel reigns over us all, taunting us from the spam post-infested Tumblr tags, the viral #coquette or #oldmoney TikTok videos, the influencers that shove a tanned, toned, “lip fillers are feminist!” idea of womanhood down our throats.
Capitalism’s a bitch, and so is Eva St. Clare, as it turns out.
I don’t know how to explain it— I can’t find words that don’t stick in my throat like regurgitated honey. I am terrified of the Teen Angel. I am terrified because She sits on the edge of my bed and strokes my hair when I feel ill (most of the time, if not always) and waits oh-so-patiently for me to say yes so She can use me as a vessel for Her influence. I don’t know how to make you understand me. If I told you— if I told you that capitalism was hanging over me like a guillotine blade and had plans to use my decapitated body as a poster child— would you know what that feels like? There is a pack of wolves in my head trying to devour me. There is a pack of wolves in the real world, waiting for me to become a zombie like them, waiting for me to succumb to a world where everything is beautiful and nothing is real.
I don’t want to. This body is mine, it’s mine and I don’t want them to touch it, mine and it dragged me through the long years and it deserves good things. I deserve good things. I will stop at nothing to have good things for myself and fuck the expenses of that— I feel nothing for everything, disregard for it all. Fuck the flesh— that’s dinner for some. I am discontent. I am bored. I am unsatisfied. Above all, I am a vain creature. I tan obsessively, paint my nails crimson, and I wait for the Angel to come. My oppositional traits only make a stronger argument for why I qualify for the other side. The dichotomy is forming the coin, and I am terrified.
Because I want to win. Because I’m willing to go full Tonya Harding on the knee of the world to make it happen. Because I’m stuck in a finite space with the wolves circling me. Because girls like me need someone to set things on fire with. Because, according to my mother, girls like me end up marrying for money and getting cocaine habits and then killing themselves. Because I want what I want, and I want to get what I want, and I want it now.
Because the voice of Cecilia Lisbon still echoes in my chest: obviously, Doctor ... you’ve never been a thirteen-year-old girl.
Because I have— oh, I have, I have.
this is amazing….!!!!
babe you never disappoint.... "hyphenated, parathetical, dead logical (Mad Hatter rationalism; picnic, lightning)" fucking magic! your writing is so rhythmic it's like i can hear it being spoken as i read it.
i don't know if i'm fully grasping what you're trying to say but like.....i want to do well on my own terms. i want to do badly on my own terms. it makes me sick to think that when i'm vaguely happy & healthy people class me as some sort of "that girl" productivity machine capitalist divine feminine pin up girl (to use their words). & how can i feel autonomous over my body when i hardly feel connected to it half the time, when people assume things about every decision i make without knowing anything about me, when every "kind of girl" i can be is mapped out and ready for me with a playlist and a starter pack. stay vain, stay ugly, stay hungry xx lots of love