Laura popped out of bed. It had been three days since the show ended and they sent her home with a new wardrobe. She had expected the hosts to be as cordial off camera but they were quiet, kept to themselves. Still, they had given her a head-to-toe makeover and hundreds of dollars of clothes which amounted to a surprisingly small group of outfits. All she had to do was parade her dumpy duds and explain that it had been eight years, give or take, since her last serious boyfriend.
Her sister, Kim, and two co-worker friends had nominated her. The producer showed the tape of Kim batting fake eyelashes and creamy lipstick.
“Laura is a cutie-pie but no man can see it under those busted clothes!”
The producer also showed a good amount of secret footage. They had filmed her in leggings and an old hockey jersey running out for milk, a stretched faded t-shirt over ill-fitting jeans to go to the movies, and countless hours of shapeless faux cotton trousers ad blouses for work. It was unsettling to see herself so unaware and flat. She was demoralized and hardly made eye contact as she scribbled her name on the consent form. He didn’t try to cheer her up or talk her through; he had seen a hundred women at least cosigning to this distilled ogling.
She had spent the weekend after the show in a thin gray t-shirt she had stashed away before boxing all of her clothes and shipping them to the set. The time had passed so quickly filled with calls of curious friends and she had related the story of shopping with the fashionista’s more than she cared to. They couldn’t wait to see her at work – today. She peeled the soft gray t-shirt away and almost threw it in the trash
After a blistering shower, she wrapped her hair and began the meticulous application of her make up. She went much more slowly than their quick-witted make-up artist. Still, as the steam cleared she felt it was close. Maybe the lights were different here though, because it seemed less smooth. She pressed her fingers together and pulled across her cheeks. No, too smooth. She wasn’t sure. A glance at the clock gave her jolt: she was almost out of time.
Laura cursed herself – of course this would take longer. She decided to just let her hair down and grab an outfit. Her closet smelled like a boutique. The various lines and patterns made her lightheaded for a moment. She grabbed a top and a pencil skirt that the woman host had put together. She added the regimented jewelry and glanced again in the mirror. She looked her age, she looked put together. Beautiful, she thought. There was a thrill.
Hobbled by her spotless blue heals, she clambered up the steps to the elevated train platform. She missed her usual EL. Her back-up and the ‘I almost called in sick today’ EL had also left. She was nearly 30 minutes late. Her legs felt bare in the frigid air. Three people had walked by and glanced at her from the corner of their eyes. The El train came rumbling to a stop and the doors opened.
As she sat, Linda realized she was making an unusual amount of eye contact for an El ride. The clothes were emitting a high pitched whistle; she couldn’t heart it but it seemed everyone else could. It seemed everyone in the car was compelled to look at her. She looked at her lap and found this particular shade of orange accenting the crushed blue flowers of her skirt emanated a piercing cry. She was sure it was like a dog whistle for people who could recognize fashion.
Worse than the awkward smiles of those who made eye contact were the others that looked everywhere but her face in bland uninterested glares. Her make-up seemed to hover over her face like a breath. She was aware of its weight against her pores. It occurred to her that she was twelve the last time she had been in costume. She remembered being told distinctly by a friend’s mother, “It’s about time you gave it up.” Linda’s heart sank, her stomach twisted, and she pulled a Kleenex out of her purse and began rubbing her lipstick away. Only 20 minutes left until her stop for work.