"Can I tell you something?" He asked her. They were standing in the corner of a room filled with drunk college students who were drinking, talking, and dancing to the loud music blaring from the speakers. "You are the prettiest girl at this party." The statement surprised her. She was wearing baggy jeans and a black long-sleeve shirt, and she wasn't wearing makeup. Other girls wearing short skirts and tight jeans, halter tops and tube tops. They were the one's drawing stares, being hit on, having guys grind up against them on the dance floor, and reveling in the attention.
He moved closer so she could clearly hear his low voice over the loud music. "You are the prettiest girl here. And you know it. And you desperately don't want to be." She couldn't think of what to say to that, so she just let him keep on speaking. "You want to be anything but pretty. You don't want to be stared at, and drooled over, and consumed by hungry eyes who devour your skin, and your legs, and your tits. You go to great lengths to avoid being thought of as a pretty girl. Right now, you would rather be nothing than be pretty." He paused as he let his words sink in. "Am I close?"
She stared, stunned, at this stranger who was so easily dissecting her. He was more than close; he was spot-on. She had always been pretty. From a very young age her straight blonde hair and bright blue eyes had drawn compliments wherever she went. But she did not feel like it was any sort of accomplishment. When the other kids in school were complimented on being smart, it was because they had answered a math problem or used a big word. On the playground, other kids were lauded for their speed, and their ability to catch a ball and jump high. Those were all things that they had done, specific things for which they were receiving praise. But she didn't do anything. She just was. She was pretty without having to work at it at all, and it was the beauty with which she was born that received the compliments, not anything that she had cultivated or worked towards.
"Here's the problem though," he continued. "Right now, you are nothing. You are trying so hard to create something new, to replace the pretty with something else, anything else. But there's nothing there. You're not a smart person, or a funny person, or an interesting person. I've been talking to you for half an hour and you haven't said anything remotely smart or funny or interesting, because you don't have any of that inside of you. You're nice, but nice is meaningless, and useless. Nice is what people fall back on when they have nothing else to offer. The best thing that could be said for you is that you are pliant. Since you have nothing on the inside you are completely willing to be whatever anyone wants you to be. Anyone who really wanted to could fill you with whatever they chose, and you would be willing to accept it, if for no other reason than because there is a void inside of you that needs to be filled. Nature abhors a vacuum."
She thought she should have been offended, but she wasn't. She was some combination of stunned and confused, and she couldn't figure out why. The things that he was saying were supposed to sound wrong. They were the opposite of everything she had spent the last year telling herself. Those were the things she had believed in high school. By her sophomore year she was 5'8" and her breasts did not seem like were ever going to stop growing. Every boy began to stare at her, constantly, memorizing her curves and probably imagining her naked. It was not just that everybody saw her as "pretty," it was that nobody saw her as anything but pretty. Or beautiful, or gorgeous, or hot. Those adjectives were, to everyone around her, the sum of her personhood. Nobody expected her to be smart, or interesting, or funny. Nobody expected her to read or follow politics or care about the world. Nobody even really expected her to speak. They just expected her to be, and to be pretty.
College stood in the horizon as an opportunity for a fresh start, and she hoped that she would be able to redefine herself, or rather, to define herself at all, to exist beyond her beauty. She got her hair cut short in a style that was, while not unflattering, certainly not as eye-grabbing as the long straight locks she had always had. She bought a whole new wardrobe, lots of pants and long-sleeve shirts, everything baggy, nothing revealing, nothing that drew attention to her legs, her stomach, or her D-cup breasts. She stopped wearing makeup to class. She worked hard to make sure people saw her, as Eric had just said, as anything but just pretty.
And yet here was this stranger who not only saw through her disguise, but who understood its purpose, and who was telling her that it wasn't working. Everything that he said made sense. All she had ever known was being pretty. Maybe it was too late for her to change. Maybe all of her efforts to downplay her beauty had done nothing but rob her of an identity. She had been trying to fill herself in for the last year. Had it all been for nothing? If this stranger she had just met half an hour ago could see through her so easily, had all that work been a waste of time?
"Do you know what I think you should do?" He asked. She tried to open her mouth to speak but she knew that no words would come out, so she only nodded. He stared into her eyes, and said quietly, "Give up."
The words felt like a punch to her gut, knocking the air out of her. It was the one thing she had been hoping he wouldn't say. Anything would be better than giving up, she thought. "You are pretty," he stated bluntly. "You are effortlessly, thoughtlessly, pretty, and nothing else. And there's nothing wrong with that. It's what you were born to be, what you were raised to be. Some people are smart, and we make sure they dedicate their lives to being as smart as possible. Some people are athletic, and we want them to push themselves as hard as they can to be as athletic as they can be. Because intelligence and athleticism, and serve a purpose in our society. So do humor and creativity. Other people having those attributes make our lives better.
"But you don't have any of those attributes, at least not enough to matter to anyone else. And maybe, if you dedicated every waking moment, you could cultivate one of them, on ever so small a scale, but it would never be enough to make a difference, not on any significant level. And think about what a waste of time that would be. All of that work for so little gain, when instead you could dedicate that time and energy to being beautiful. Because beauty, like intelligence and athleticism and humor and creativity, is an attribute that improves society. People crave beauty, the way we crave oxygen and sustenance. You have an abundance of beauty, and the potential for far more. But you are wasting that potential the way you are living your life, and in doing so you are depriving everybody around you of the beauty you have to offer. When a genius drinks himself to death, or a star athlete retires at his prime, do you know what we call them? Selfish. You were given a gift just as meaningful and just as powerful as what they were given, and you are throwing it away. That's selfish.
"What you are doing is bad for you. You are depriving yourself of a meaning and a purpose you were born with, and leaving yourself with nothing. You are torturing yourself by denying your usefulness. And you are hurting society by stealing from them a gift that belongs to them. You are a thief, and the only way to make amends is to admit that what you are, all you are, is pretty. Give up. Give up on being anything but beautiful, and embrace the role you were always supposed to have."
She felt tears welling up in her eyes. She wanted to scream, or run, but she couldn't. His lips turned up into a smile that contained just a hint of mockery. He moved towards her so that he could whisper in her ear. "So here's what you're going to do." His breath was warm against her neck, and she shivered. "You are going to come back to my apartment with me and I am going to show you just how beautiful you can be. And I am going to transform you. I am going to bring out your beauty and get rid of everything else, so that when I am done with you there will be nothing left to you but the only thing you were meant to have: your beauty. You will be useful, your life will have meaning, because you will be beautiful. You will be nothing but beautiful, and as a result, you will be perfect. Do you understand?"
She nodded. He took her hand and led her to the door, and she followed him docilely. He knew what to do with her. He knew everything she didn't, and she trusted that if she followed his lead that everything he had said would come true. He would make her beautiful, and he would make her perfect.
She sat in a folding chair, facing a mirror, as she had makeup applied to her by face a cute woman with pink hair. She was wearing a white bikini that covered very little of her D-cup breasts. Her skin had a deep tan that contrasted starkly with her light blonde hair and bright blue eyes. When the makeup artist was finished she would be astonishingly beautiful, exactly what she was supposed to be.
She would spend six hours standing next to some kind of sports car, smiling, giggling, and being pleasant. She would be there to draw attention, to draw stares. She was being paid to be beautiful. She was fulfilling her purpose in life and getting paid to do so. She had dropped out of school at the end of her second semester. There was no reason for her to be there any more. A college degree would not make her any more beautiful, and thus was useless. She had started modeling, sometimes in bikinis, sometimes naked. She was making more money than her degree ever would have earned her, and she found the work fulfilling on an emotional and spiritual level. She was being paid to be beautiful. This was how it was supposed to be.
She had already been to the gym before work. She would have a salad for lunch and then a light dinner when she got home. She would shower, get dressed in a tight fitting backless dress, and spend almost as much time putting on makeup as she did before these car shows. When he was ready to take her out she would be as beautiful as she could possibly be. She would be as close to perfect as she could possibly be, just how he wanted her. He would take her to a club and show her off. Everyone would stare at her as she drank and danced. Everyone would be jealous of her, and of him, for being the one who possessed her beauty. She thought about how beautiful she looked, and how beautiful she would look on his arm, and she smiled. Finally, for the first time in her life, she was happy.