Product Placement

May 02

You push against foot traffic with the same fatalistic aggression you use to push against turning thirty. It’s hopeless, yet you try anyway. Commuters jostle for position like racehorses and for the same disheartening goal: to run in circles just to end up back here at the same time tomorrow, 24 hours older. You run your fingers through your too-thick frizzy hair, trying to tame it, to no avail.

“Jennifer! You should really do something about that hair!”

Without breaking your stride, you look over your shoulder for someone you know. But among the human throng by the green, graffiti-stained newsstand there is no one familiar, save the proprietor making rapid exchanges of magazines for money.

Great—now you’re hearing things. Is this part of getting older? You turn your sensible shoes back down Eighth Avenue and charge forth. Your best friend, Vanessa, would laugh and laugh. But what does she know? She’s only 27. You dab at the muddy concealer under your eyes.

“Hey, Jenny! I know just what you need to make those dark circles disappear forever!”

Again, you whip your head around, this time looking for Vanessa – not that she would ever say such a thing. Again, all you see is the rush hour mob, the cups of Joe, the newsstand. All the cover models seem to be looking right at you, but the guy behind the counter is looking the other way.

You decide your name is entirely too common and reinvest doggedly in your commute.

You once bought a Cosmopolitan from a subway newsstand. The train was late and the wind blowing down the empty tracks made the magazine pages wave eerily at you. With no phone service underground and your beloved novel accidentally left at home, you needed something to read. So you bought it. The magazine promised all sorts of things — including the best sexual positions for achieving mind-blowing orgasms — but you focused on the Beautification Ratings System in the back. You did one for you and one for Vanessa. You came out a “six” and she an “eight.” The thing made a satisfying crumpling sound as you shoved it in the trash. When the train finally came, you spent the ride rating everyone else.

Sweat runs in your armpits from the memory and suddenly your office desk seems much more desirable. You briskly cross street after street, pushing up your glasses, pulling your bra strap higher up on your shoulder –

“Jennifer, I’ve got the perfect low cut dress for you, if you can remind your breasts how to stand up and say hello!”

Dread knots in your throat. You fly full force now, skimming around the fat slowpokes, dodging crisp, three-piece suits, bobbing and weaving through elegant sophistication and drunken homelessness. At 5’3″ you mostly only see shoulder blades, but you navigate like a New York City pro, forgiving yourself any accidental roughness; you’ll get to the gym to sweat off those extra nine pounds just as soon as you remember what gym you belong to. Just a few more blocks and you’ll be safe in the comfort of fluorescent lighting and beige cubicles. You’ll call Vanessa at her research lab and she’ll chuckle compassionately. You’ll bury yourself in work and emerge sane.

Then: red light, Don’t Walk and you’re stuck four rows deep at 42nd Street. No side step wiggle room to the gutter for the quick cross. You’re trapped. Voices barrel down at you; you concentrate on the noises of the traffic. Horns. Engines. Whistles. You try humming to yourself, but you don’t like your voice. You try breathing loudly, but even your sigh is uneventful. The lights change. The determined throng moves forward. Except you. You are frozen. You can’t help it. You have to stand still and listen. And look.

They are all talking directly at you. Every single one of them. Their covers flapping joyously, their ageless beauty tantalizing. Thin, pushed-up bodies are gesturing effortlessly on the glossy page, doing all but reaching out and dragging you in physically. Your name is spoken over and over: “Jennifer, Jen, Jenny, J.” You’re batted about as you cross against the mob, approaching the newsstand. You hear it all at once and it comes at you without apology.

“Jenny you are really cute, except for your lips. Learn how to make them fuller and more kissable!”

“Jennifer, quick, before its too late, work off that extra handful at your hips or have it done the easy way!”

Hey, J! Just 10 easy steps to using all the latest fashions to show off your best and hide your worst!

“Girl, take a look at THIS hair color! Now tell me you won’t be the hottest thing on Friday nights with these highlights! Better than that dull sand you’ve got now.”

“Shoes, honey, shoes make the outfit and the outfit makes the woman. Notice how these heels push my desirables into more appropriate places?”

“Jen, with an ass like this you could have your own reality show!”

Their voices rise above all the other city noises, invading your mind. Your thoughts are mush. You have no choice. You are done. You are theirs.

* * *

The surgeries and shopping were worth it. The depleted savings account and months in painful, bandaged recovery, too. Even the fights with Vanessa. No matter how many times she tried to convince you not to do any of it, in the end she’d say, it’s your cash, and you’d slap your credit card on the counter, charging your happiness to plastic.

Now you can begin your new life as A Perfect, Enviable Ten. All the doctors have admired their work: You’ve healed exquisitely, Jennifer. You put all the mirrors back up in your apartment and begin.

Your new beauty regimen starts with The Beautiful You Body Sealant. Full of protein, silicone and tanning treatment, this cream is the only thing you must apply every day to ensure against leakage and tears.

You start with your pedicured toes, now straightened and elongated to accommodate the 45-degree bend in the middle foot and the shaved heel – just like the Malibu Barbie Doll you had as a little girl. Smoothing the cream over your ankle, ever-hairless shins and calves, you admire the natural-looking curve of the Model Muscle Implants. Those ugly spider and varicose veins are gone too; you can’t even see the laser scars anymore. Your knee is smooth and round, no unseemly cartilage to interrupt the lines. You spread the cream evenly over your firm, muscular thighs, with a nod to the Thigh Battery charging in the corner of the living room. Only once every other day for that: the 15 minutes of high grade electric shock is much preferred over the inconvenient, sweaty gym workout.

The Beautiful You Body Sealant smells like lavender, roses and menthol as you apply it around your hips (tighter, leaner, shaved bone), buttocks (tighter, higher, thicker, rounded – like a giant unshakable bubble) and stomach (flat, rippled, pierced). Can you still call it your stomach if you’ve had your entire digestive system removed? There’s always “belly” if you have to talk about it.

A whole new bottle of cream is required to cover your persistently glorious Attain The Unattainable Bosom, though you can’t feel your own fingers as you rub it in. (No matter, you think. Who needs feeling when you’re An Enviable Ten?) Start another bottle to the added bone in your collarbone, over your sharpened shoulders, electronically toned arms, and wrinkle free hands. Even your knuckles are free from squished skin, allowing the viewer to admire the Forever Manicure. Easily fitting your whole hand around your neck, you apply more sealant, moving up and over your pointed jaw and on to the rest of your face. The Bleach-Away under your eyes means you never have to worry about dark circles again. Your stretched electric green eyes (green today, anyway) pop out at you, no longer bruised from the three Easy-Peasy Nose Jobs, and your lips cover an area all their own, like a small country between the oceans of your implanted cheekbones. You flash your new White Lightning teeth, nestled in your chiseled gums and glowing against the tattooed make-up on your lips. (So convenient to have the make-up on all the time – mouth, cheeks, eyelids and eyeliner, with long Everlast Lashes. And if you choose, you can apply over the tattoos for variety.) Finally, you tousle your shiny blond and red and maroon It’s All You! extensions with your French manicured nails, careful not to ruin the sparkly American Flag decal on the tip of your right pinky.

To finish the process you double-check your ankles, knees, hips, waist, elbows, triceps, neck, under eyes and buttocks for liposuction scars. None. Those doctors are geniuses.

Activating the Own It! elastic metal in your spine, you stand to your full, new height of five nine, and stretch, pressing your fingertips against the ceiling. It feels good. It feels really good.

Now. Clothing. Like a queen, you pour over the treasure that stretches out across your apartment: a sea of trendy patterns, colors, fabrics and sassy hemlines. For the next several hours, you try on everything in every possible combination. Fashionably ripped materials, mesh, lace and plunging necklines show off your piercings, meaningless tattoo and side boob. You combine high cut tops with low-slung bottoms, bootilicious shorts with thongs and you never, ever wear a bra. You slide your new feet – effortlessly! – into five-inch stiletto bedazzled heels that instantly force your butt and your chest twice as far away from each other. Every single outfit boasts your best…because there is no “worst” anymore.

You view yourself in three full-length mirrors over and over again, turning one way and another. Every time the conclusion is the same: Perfection. (The phone rings. Probably Vanessa. You ignore it.) Sitting in front of the mirrors, you take a deep breath and let the Body Language Chip embedded in your cerebral cortex do its magic.

Knees together, pointed directly at your intended, with your lower legs slated seductively to the side. Shoulders square, head cocked to the left, eyes gleaming below lowered eyelids as you look directly at him. Touch him lightly on the arm if he makes a joke. Lean forward so he can see down your blouse. Or bend over so he can catch a glimpse of your secrets. Compliment him. Research subjects that he likes, even if youre not interested, and bring them up in conversation. Smile.

New set: How To Show Confidence. Stand to your full height. Walk with your chin up, looking straight ahead. Your steps should be strong and solid in the heel, about a legs length apart. (This is a challenge in heels, but the Balance Chip in your inner ear helps your equilibrium.) Smile.

Hundreds of outfits later, you shoot your nutrient, hydration and anti-depressant injections through your nose so you don’t leave visible scars. You slip comfortably into your red and black lace teddy and garter belt, pausing momentarily to admire your brow, leg, lip, forearm and Brazilian wax job. Leaving all your beaded jewelry on, you fall asleep with the dreams of a beautiful woman; one who will be coveted and envied at both the office and the club. Everywhere, really. Everywhere, every day. You blow a kiss to the pile of fanned-out magazines laying like a bible on the nightstand.

* * *

Welcome to The Cover Girls.” The voices speaking in syrupy unison startle you awake. You open your eyes to find yourself on the cover of a glossy magazine, peering beyond the letters that hang threateningly just above your head. You look out onto every street of every city in the world. The others are talking to you, guiding you along.

“Notice the double chin on that one. A prime and easy target. Try it. Its easy.”

You see the woman with the double chin. She strides along a city street, possibly Chicago. All her flaws cluster around her like happy demons. You finger your sleek, glittery throat, and the necklace that brands you, making it hard to swallow.

“Go ahead, Jennifer. Try it.”

You close your eyes, imagining your bedroom. The simple cotton sheets, monochrome colored walls. You imagine your clock reading 6:45 a.m. in green digital letters. You open your eyes. The woman with the double chin is still there. Looking at her, you notice other things. Dry, flyaway hair. Flabby arms. Pancaked, streaky make-up. She’s only about five feet, five inches feet tall. A large varicose vein snakes along her left leg. You remember being like her. You remember who you were.

Struggling against the urges of The Cover Girls, you refuse to call out to the woman. You feel your neck muscles strain like violin bows against your taut skin; your jaw clenched in a permanent smile. But you will not call out. You will not.

“Go ahead, Jennifer. You see that turkey neck. Tell her how she can fix it.” No, you think. More voices.

“Jennifer. You see them. You see the flaws. Help them. Help those poor women. They need you.” You feel your tongue move in your throat, but you clench tighter.

Then, without control, the words fly out of your mouth, hungry to tear into the woman.

“Hey, Alana! This crystal-drop necklace would look great on you if you just tightened yourself up a bit!” The Cover Girls smile. Laugh.

Very good, Jennifer. Youll do fine here.

You shake your head to indicate refusal, hair blowing fabulously around your head.

* * *

You close your eyes and there is nothing. You don’t dream in this new world. When you wonder why, the voices answer. “Because there is nothing left to dream, dearie.”

Screaming startles you. You open your eyes and scan the streets, searching for a predator, a victim, a crime. As if flipping through postcards, you see New York City, Chicago, Paris, Rome, Madrid, Budapest. Certainly there is activity everywhere, but nothing seems to match this screaming.

And something is odd about it; something almost unreal. You listen closer. Closer. Then you hear it: perfection. It is the most exquisite scream you have ever heard. The pitch is spot on; the tone nice and round and full. If it weren’t for being a scream, it would be a beautifully held, luscious operatic note full of pain and despair. You wonder where it is coming from. Who it is coming from.

The voices answer you: “It comes from an ‘Obsolete’. She is no longer.”

You struggle to understand and wonder if it shows to the women on the street. They don’t seem to notice. Obsolete?

Obsolete. Passé. Old.”

An old person is screaming like this?

No, Jennifer. We never age here. We never change. But styles do.”

You quickly flash on all the clothes and products you bought. All the shirts, jeans, shorts, dresses, underwear, lingerie, skirts, belts, jewelry, make-up, shoes, hair foam, spray, gel, drops, lengthener. You focus and see several women on the streets wearing your white tank top with the black bra. Your mini-flounce skirt in wide variations and colors enjoy bouncing upon hips of all sizes. Women all over the world sport hair dyed in bright clashing colors. A pang of safety soothes your gut. The perfect scream begins to fade.

That tank top wont always be in style, Jennifer. Enjoy it while you can.” Then, just as the Obsolete screams her last beautiful breath, there is the familiar sound of crumpling paper followed by a terrifying silence. Fear and reverence settles among The Cover Girls.

Then, without thought or premeditation, you and all the others call out to the women, urgently saying their names, flashing your wares, selling your styles to save your pretty little silicone souls.

* * *

You see the streets, the women, the flaws. You feel no hunger, no thirst. You will never eat here. You will never sleep here. You will never talk to Vanessa again.

My god, you think. What have I done?

There must be a way out, some secret chant, mantra, something to blow you back to your brown hair, bitten nails and drab suits. You look at the sea of women moving swiftly by, leaving colors in their trails behind them. You see the hooked noses, the eczema, the misshapen legs and mis-matched clothes.

You see Vanessa.

Before you can catch yourself, you call out to her.


Goooood…” say The Cover Girls. Vanessa doesn’t hear you. She’s stopped at a crosswalk. If only she’d see you, she’d understand. She’d know what to do. She’d be able to help. You call out again.

“Vanessa!” She seems to hear something and looks over her bare shoulder glowing against a yellow halter-top. A sprinkle of freckles you never noticed before smatter the back of her neck. Those could be removed with Chemical Clear Away. She’s looking in your direction.

“Vanessa.” She walks towards the magazine stand. Your breath quickens and you know you’d be sweating if your sweat glands hadn’t been removed. Vanessa stops, looking right at you. Her nose skews to the left and one nostril is bigger than the other. One shoulder is higher than the other, indicating that one leg is longer than the other. Her eyeliner has smeared ever so slightly. As you notice this, she reaches with her index finger to wipe it clean. Her head is tilted and her brow is furrowed as she tries to figure you out. You’ve seen this expression before at parties whenever she ran into someone she once knew and was trying to place them.

“Go ahead. Help her, Jennifer.” You hold your tongue and gaze back at Vanessa. Deep in concentration, light wrinkles stand proudly upon her forehead. She sees you now. You’re sure of it.

You take a breath and say, “Vanessa, it’s me. Jennifer. Help me.”

But what you hear is your own voice saying, “Vanessa, want to know the secret to smudge-free eyeliner?”

Vanessa’s expression doesn’t alter. She hasn’t heard you; neither what you wanted to say nor what you actually said. She just takes a last perplexed look at the magazine, reads the title and waves her hand dismissively, making that little puff of sarcasm with her perfectly crooked lips.


3 Responses to “Product Placement”

  1. Alfi says:

    If this is what New York women have turned into, I'm glad I left.

  2. mido says:

    My god, you think. What have I done

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