I was in high school, a girl consumed and mesmerized by the glossy pictures in her glossy magazines: Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue. I kept them like precious jewels. I lived by them. I found hope in them.
The models, oh they were so perfect, so pretty, so inspirational. And maybe, just maybe, I too could look like that. Maybe just a little.
It was a red strappy dress. Just that right shade of red, not too orange, not too blue. It was perfect against the model’s warm, lightly tanned skin. It was casual yet sexy and oh so effortless looking. It graced the model’s slim figure with a loving and gentle embrace.
She had dark blond hair with natural waves. She was pretty in that high school girl way, like Kate Moss. I wanted that look.
If I could have, I’d have dived into the pages and lived there. Looking just like that. Glossy. Perfect. I knew that was not possible but some part of me still longed for a world like that.
I found the dress. My God, I actually found the actual dress. It was in a store a few miles from my home. I don’t need to just dream, I thought. I can actually attain this.
My heart was full of hope as I discovered it in my size on a rack in one of those trendy little stores, the kind with bright lights and loud colors that carries clothing we see in magazines, clothing that lures us hopeful young women like Sirens, those beautiful creatures who in Greek mythology lured sailors with their songs to shipwrecked deaths against rocky shores.
I took it into the dressing room. It hung lifeless on the hanger, its color less warm and aglow under the sunless light. It was just a few feet of material, not the gorgeously draped fabric on the model’s perfect figure. It seemed cheaper than it did in the magazine.
But I wanted to believe the dream so I denied that bit of disillusionment as I undressed then stepped one foot after another into the sundress I’d imagined could change my life.
I felt as if someone smacked me in my face when I faced myself in the mirror. How could this be the same dress? My figure was not the model’s. My white skin was not a tanned, glowing canvas. The dress fell unattractively on my body, not caressing the perfect lines as I expected.
I felt betrayed. Worse, I felt stupid.
How could I have been so miseld? I left the store without the dress, and along with that I left behind a bit of a dream and a certain amount of my innocence was smashed against the rocks.
Never again, I told myself those many years ago and yet, I still hear the call of the Sirens. And I find myself wanting to believe.
I want to believe that if I buy those perfectly fitted jeans on the model with mile-high legs that I’ll look like that, too. That life will be glamorous and wonderful if I buy those shoes, start using that face cream or makeup or get that hair style.
I still get swept into the dream until I remember — and I always remember — that strappy red dress.
Charles Revson famously once said of the cosmetics they made in the factory: “In the drugstore we sell hope.”
Now an adult for many years, I know this, we all know this. Even the models in my fashion magazines are not so perfect. Air brushing, Photoshop, special lighting and other tricks make the already impossibly beautiful even more so.
It’s okay to want to look pretty, in style, polished. But I need to keep it real. I’ll never look like anyone but me. I’ll never have longer legs, flawless golden skin, hair that is always perfect.
And that's okay. That has to be okay. It’s all I’ve got.
So when I do hear the Sirens call — and sometimes I’m lured again — I know better.
I remind myself of that strappy red dress and steer myself clear of the rocks.