Like all women of her generation, Sarah had always been preoccupied with her appearance. She was always “not” something: not tall enough, not thin enough, not submissive enough. And she was always “too” something as well: too clever, too tactless, too short in the leg. Even her own mother had difficulty finding something positive to say about her appearance, and on being pressed, could only come up with “you’ve got very nice eyebrows”.
Over the years, Sarah undertook various forms of self-improvement: anti-cellulite wraps that made her look like a mummy, hot wax exfoliations that made her squeal in pain, tight brassieres that made her frontage look a little less like two puppies fighting in a sack. And there were more: teeth whitening that made her tongue sore, false nails that looked like scimitars and made gardening impossible, gym visits that bent her backwards over an iron bar. It was a form of torture. But for what? To ensure that her insides didn’t hang down to her knees, and that her fleshly envelope was as smooth as possible.
Certainly the men she met seemed rather demanding in terms of her appearance, but they had their quirks too. Why was it, she wondered, that every time you left a scene of amatory combat, you’d come back from the bathroom and find him trying on your dress? Why was it that those who criticised you for some slovenly detail would be sporting half their breakfast on their tie, like an heraldic device? What was it about them and rubber? The biggest problem, though, was her cleverness. She learned that the way to please an academic type was to praise his turgid footnotes, and the way to please a more practical swain was to riffle through his tool-box and exclaim about the instruments’ variety and shine. It was fatal to show your brain or your capacity for irony. That always made them spiteful.
One day Sarah thought of a way to deal with it all. There had been some Greek sculptor (she forgot his name) who made a statue which he then fell in love with. She came alive. Sarah forgot the rest of the story, but she was sure that it ended badly. She too would make a statue, which would be the emblem of the feminine ideals which had tormented her all her life. And then she’d teach it a lesson. Give it what-for.
It took a long while. The statue took form in her garden shed, and was made out of wax, lath and plaster, polystyrene and mud. Sarah purchased a very expensive wig, and borrowed her mother’s second-best set of false teeth. She bought the best acrylic nails she could find. Finally the perfect woman was done. No pubic or axillary hair. She smiled rather too much.
Sarah lugged the thing down the garden path. She sat it on an old chair and put some ready-made barbeque blocks under it. Bits of dry wood, grass, old papers. Then she put a match to it. Not much happened at first, but then as it caught, the wax sizzled with a buzzing sound, and the polystyrene went up with an acrid flame. The wig exploded. The creature didn’t utter a single cry.
Sarah raked over the ashes. The teeth and the nails were all that was left. She felt a great sense of relief. No one to reproach her any more for being little and round. She realised that she had allowed the statue to imprison her. It had been rigorous, but she had freed herself from it. She was herself. And she sat in the gloaming with a gin in one hand and a cake in the other, wondering whether she could fit in a cigarette as well. If people didn’t like her as she now was, well, that was their look-out.