Claire Miye Stanford
So you go to a strip mall in a suburb a few minutes out of town, and the place is like a cross between a doctor’s office and a beauty salon, and they seat you in a comfortable chair, and you tell them a name and they look it up in the Celeb-o-Rater database and print out a sheet of numbers. And then they look at the numbers for a minute and then look at you for a minute, and they trace their fingers over your face and then down their sheet of numbers, and then they consult with each other and nod, and then they’re injecting you with a needle and zapping you with a laser and you feel a couple of quick stings but really nothing more painful than that, and all of a sudden it’s done and your whole face is wrapped up in gauze like you’re a mummy.
Driving home, you feel a little embarrassed, but no one gives you a second look. At a red light, you see another driver, also wrapped in gauze, stopped across the intersection, and the two of you give each other a nod of recognition.
When your husband gets home that night he touches your face and sighs, and the two of you tell the kids to play gentle around mommy for the next week. And you try to explain to them that next time they see you, you will look a little different. Different how? they ask, and you can’t really answer, because you’re not totally sure yourself. Because the Celeb-o-Rater is not plastic surgery, not quite, and so no one can predict exactly what its effect will be. At least that’s what the technician told you at your consultation. It’s a serum—FDA approved!—custom-mixed to bend and twist your own features, pulling them closer to the mold of the woman you selected. But still, the technician warned, there was no way to know for certain how that serum would mix with your own DNA, how that woman’s features would be expressed in your own face. Fine, fine, I understand, you said, and then you signed your name on a waiver and presented your face as a canvas for their needles.
And so a week later, when everyone is out of the house, you are a little bit nervous when you begin to peel off the white strips, and when they’re all piled neatly beside you, rising up from the tiled counter like a frothy scoop of marshmallow fluff, you go to the bathroom mirror and you have to touch your face to believe that it’s really yours. And when your husband comes home with the kids, picked up from soccer practice and piano lessons, respectively, all three of them gasp and the kids giggle and want to touch your face and you let them, murmuring “gentle, gentle” the whole time, as if your face is a soft downy kitten. And while they ooh and ahh over you, your husband stands back, his arms crossed, surveying you from across the room, but you can see it in his eyes: he’s looking at you in a way he hasn’t looked at you since long before soccer practice and piano lessons and children who play too rough with kittens became part of your shared daily reality.
And when your friends see you, they will say nothing, because that is the acceptable social code. You said nothing to Louise when she was Kardashianed, nothing to Maeve when she added a touch of Angelina. But you will see the recognition in their eyes, as they search your face for its celebrity model. You will see their eyes light up, just for a moment, when it finally dawns on them, that the girl you all wanted to be in 1995 when you were juniors in high school, you are her now. She is you, in your bee-stung lips, in your coyly arched brows, in your perfectly long, perfectly straight, perfectly blonde hair. And she isn’t really famous anymore, except for some of her PETA stunts and that weird bird-mother thing, but she is just so pretty, so perfectly pretty, and maybe it is better that she isn’t super famous anymore anyway—it makes her features less recognizable, her beauty more ineffable when it appears on your face.
You have been Celeb-o-Rated. You—well, you and Alicia, really, but you, you, you!—are so very beautiful.
Illustrations By Meghan Murphy