I think that this is an appropriate place to pause and talk about fairy tales. Traditionally, fairy tales have helped establish the should-bes in our patriarchal society: how a man or woman should look or act, what love should look like and how it should happen…And though we third-wave feminists (or post-feminists, or whatever the hell you call a woman who reads Bitch magazine these days) like to write dissertations deconstructing fairy tales or set up ironic memes and post them to tumblr, the fact of the matter is we all love fairy tales because we recognize and idealize the “should-bes”. If you don’t believe me, count the number of Cinderella adaptations that exist today.
So today, I’d like to tell you my own little fairy tale. It’s a little bit Ella Enchanted* and a little bit Maid in Manhattan**–a fairy tale about a girl who, even as a grown up, never stopped believing in fairy godmothers and glass slippers and the power of the “should-be.” A power that ultimately destroyed the very thing she she so desperately sought to be: loved.
*Magical obedience curse or obsessive compulsion? Yeah, that’s what I thought…
**Only the In Manhattan Part, I think.
Once upon a time, there was a Girl who lived in a Big City. The Girl was very, very thin, which should have, by society’s standards, made her very, very happy. However, the Girl had a dark secret: She was being kept prisoner by an evil force, called “ED.”
ED was a voice that lived in her head. ED told her what to eat and when to eat it; it made her work out until she was so exhausted she could barely stand; and it showed up in her mirror and mocked her when she tried to tell herself that maybe–just maybe–she was pretty enough to be loved. ED would not allow her to have friends or meet a man who could love her, because ED knew that she “should-be” better.
Now, the Girl went to an important School, where she learned how to talk very loudly about Big Ideas. But now that School was over, she was alone very often and did not have anyone to share her Big Ideas with. The Big City was filled with millions and millions of Very Interesting and Important People, but most People were so busy living their Very Interesting and Important Lives that they rarely stopped to talk to strangers. Therefore, if you did not already have someone to share your Big Ideas with, the Big City was a very lonely place to live.
After many months of riding the crowded subways all alone, the Girl became depressed. She was very lonely, and wanted desperately to meet someone with whom she could share her Big Ideas and maybe even fall in Love. It seemed like everyone else had someone to love them: men and women (and men and men and women and women and every combination in between) would walk down the street holding hands, sharing ice cream cones, and debating the intrinsic artistic value of the latest gallery opening. The Girl would watch and listen enviously. This was how her life “should-be.”
Although she was technically free to come and go as she pleased–hence the crowded subway rides–ED kept the Girl locked away most of the time in her fourth floor walkup. And during these periods of incarceration, the Girl would sit behind her computer and dream about the Very Interesting and Important People who walked happily by beneath her window.
That is how the girl found the Missed Connections. The Missed Connections was a way for lonely people to battle Regret from behind their computer screens: perhaps they had caught someone’s eye on the street but were too shy to say hello. Perhaps they spoke a few words to that special someone while standing on line at the Drug Store but parted ways after purchasing their cold medication and trashy magazines. Perhaps they sat across from one another on the Train for hours and never said a word–but wanted to. The Missed Connections was a website where Regret could turn perhaps into Hope.
Although the Girl did not believe that anyone ever un-missed a Missed Connection, she read the website every day because she was fascinated by the messages that People left one another. The Girl kept her mind off of ED by writing stories about this cast of characters whose faces she had never seen–or had, perhaps, merely missed.
One day, the Girl went to a Very Expensive Health Food Store downtown so she could feed her ED. She didn’t need much–just a few packets of protein powder and some supplements (and a cup of coffee to keep her metabolism burning away)–so she was allowed to stand on the express checkout line. Next to her was the line for people with many items to purchase. And in that line was a Man with a Very Nice Smile. She looked over at him and their eyes met. The Man smiled his Nice Smile, but she looked down, embarrassed at being caught People-watching. The lines, both express and regular, were very long, so they had many minutes to stand next to one another without saying a word, pretending they weren’t trying to steal glances at one another. They shuffled forward with each passing minute, until their view of one another was obstructed by a large display of potato chips. Eventually, the Girl left the Very Expensive Health Food Store–but not before turning around to see if the Man was still there. He was, and he was Smiling and scanning the crowd to see if she had left.
That night, the Girl decided to defy her miserable jailer ED and leave a message for the Man on the Missed Connections. A few days later, she received an email. It was from the Man with the Very Nice Smile. The Man, it turns out, knew something about Big Ideas. He also played an instrument in the orchestras at the musicals that the Girl loved to attend. They decided to meet and un-miss their connection. They decided to go Out to dinner.
ED was not happy. ED did not like the Girl to eat dinner with anyone else. ED threatened the Girl, but the Girl did not listen.
She met the Man at a restaurant, and they had a wonderful time. The talked about Big Ideas and ate tons of very delicious food. At the end of the night, the Man kissed her goodbye just before the subway doors closed between them.
The Girl spent more time with the Man, eating delicious food and going to the theatre. When she was with the Man, the Girl was very happy. But as soon as he was gone, ED would start to scold her: You ate too much food. You stayed out too late and didn’t work out hard enough the next day. You had a sip of wine and a bite of dessert–You are not as thin as you “should-be!” As long as you go out with the Man, I will place a curse on you. You will become fat and ugly and then no one will ever love you, not even me!
One night, the Man took the girl downtown for her first slice of pizza in almost a year. The Girl had been afraid to eat pizza because ED didn’t like it, but the Man assured her that it would be okay. She took a timid bite–and it was the most glorious bite of pizza she had ever tasted. And then she ate and ate and ate until she felt sick. That night, ED laughed as the Girl held her aching stomach and cried herself to sleep.
A few days later, the Girl and the Man went to dinner. They ate restaurant foods that were laden with sugars and fats, and then took the subway home. The food sat in the Girl’s stomach–and ED made sure that it stayed at the forefront of her brain too. Even though she was enjoying her time with the Man, the Girl could not stop thinking about how much food she just ate–and how ED needed to punish her for being so lax with her diet. ED wanted her to feel how bad it was to be ugly and fat. ED wanted her to eat more so she would suffer.
The Girl and the Man took the Yellow train to the Main Station, where they would part ways (the Man staying on the Yellow train and the the Girl transferring to the Red.) As they approached the station, the Man offered to ride the Red train north and walk the Girl home. Suddenly, the Girl felt ED’s curse–her chest started to close up, and she couldn’t breathe. She felt dizzy and scared, and she began to cry. She ran off of the train as soon as the doors opened in the Main Station, and the Man followed. She started to hyperventilate, crying hysterically, begging him to leave her alone and go home.
The Man was bewildered. What had happened to the happy-go-lucky Girl he had been riding the train with just a few moments ago? He was concerned; this was not how a Girl “should-be!” He was not Smiling now. The Girl pushed him away and sprinted for the Red train, getting on board so quickly that the Man had no choice but to become another Missed Connection.
When the Girl got back to her street, ED made her buy a big, dense, fudgy brownie from the Open-Late Grocery Store. It forced her to eat all 500+ calories as quickly as she could and would not let her enjoy a single bite. The Girl ran to her apartment and tried to throw it up, but ED just laughed and laughed at her while she cried on the bathroom floor.
That was the last time that the Girl saw the Man with the Very Nice Smile.
I wish there were a way to give this Ever After a Happily, but as far as this particular story goes, there is simply no way. The Girl in this story is still alone, although she lives in a much smaller City now, because she believed ED would keep her captive forEver After.
There is a sort-of happy ending, however, because the Girl is finally realizing that the voice in her head does not truly understand how the world “should-be.” She is also learning that life is not like a fairy tale. And unlike in most fairy tales, with mean witches or evil stepmothers, ED cannot be defeated by the sheer power of another’s love. ED can only be defeated by someone who can first love him or herself. Even then, self-love is difficult to maintain–the Girl has to actively remind herself to think positive thoughts each and every day. And though the Girl no longer lives imprisoned and alone in the Big City, she still wakes up in the morning and has to fight with the evil ED that stares at her from the other side of her mirror. And this is a battle that the Girl will fight, maybe not forEver, but After.*
*This is not The End, however. The Girl hopes that all of the other Girls (and Boys) in the world will keep fighting off the evil EDs that lurk behind mirrors and at the bottom of the ice cream dish and on our television screens. Don’t let Connections get Missed because you are too busy should-be-ing instead of just be-ing happy. Life’s too short, and you are beautiful exactly as you are.