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      How to Look Amazing in Photographs

      December 2, 2008

      By Amanda Maxwell

      Another up-and-comer, Amanda is Australian and she sent us something that can’t be translated into our non-English editions because it’s an extended riff on the pronunciation of the word “douche.” It’s taken from her forthcoming book Nobody Told Me There’d Be Days Like These, which will soon be available at serpspress.com.




      Story read by: A native of that wacky little country of New Zealand.
      Sometimes the world lets me in on its secrets. Not its important secrets, just its special little ones. The kind of secrets that help me to uphold a wonderful illusion of cleverness in the eyes of my friends and family.

      For example, I know how to look amazing in photographs.

      A little while ago I took a trip on an airplane. Sitting next to me on the airplane was a girl with long hair and curled eyelashes. She was reading a glossy magazine.

      “Hey,” she said.

      “Hi,” I said.

      “Do you want to read this magazine?” she asked. “I’ve finished with it.”

      I was grateful for her kindness, as it wasn’t the kind of airplane with television screens on the back of every seat and I had made a bad choice of paperback in the airport news agency.

      “Okay,” I said. “Thanks.”

      The girl passed me the magazine.

      On the cover was a photograph of Scarlett Johansson. In the photograph Scarlett looked especially amazing. I looked at her for a long time without opening the magazine, and while I looked at her, I asked myself a question that I often ask myself when I am looking at amazing photographs of beautiful ladies: How come you look that amazing?

      Her hair was all everywhere, eyes looking into my eyes, mouth doing that secret thing that model mouths do. It was amazing.

      I couldn’t bring myself to open that magazine; for an hour or more I just kept looking at the cover. We had hit a little bit of turbulence and the girl beside me had turned white.

      “I get so scared on airplanes,” she said.

      “You’ll be fine,” I said and squeezed her hand. Then I went back to looking at the cover of the magazine.

      Outside the sky was dark and empty. When the turbulence had settled down, the air hostesses came out with wine and lemonade. And then an eerie thing happened: I heard a sound. Not an airplane sound or the sound of a glass being dropped, but something like a whisper. It was coming from somewhere very close to me. I looked at the girl beside me. She was asleep. I heard it again. 

      “Shhh,” it said. 

      When I looked down I realized a very scary thing. The sound was coming from the glossy magazine in my lap. I picked the magazine up carefully and very slowly put my ears to Scarlett Johansson’s lips. And this is what I heard:

      “Dooooouuuche.” 

      Just that single word.

      “Did you say ‘douche’?” I whispered in Scarlett’s ear, but the sound was gone.

      I drank my glass of wine in one mouthful. I wondered if this was what it was like to lose your mind.

      Douche: a shower in French; not a shower in English.

      I thought about an episode of Oprah that I’d seen a few years earlier. Oprah had been interviewing a gorgeous gynecologist who had just written a book on all things lady. The gynecologist was smiling and sharing fabulous feminine tips, more of which could be found in the book if you bought it. Suddenly, Oprah stood up and said, “You hear that, ladies? Don’t douche!”

      And the crowd went wild. They joined her in a chorus of “Don’t douche, don’t douche, don’t douche.” Fists punching the air.

      But on the airplane that day the memory seemed too good to be true and I couldn’t guarantee that I hadn’t made it up. Things were very strange.

      The girl next to me was awake now and looked much better.

      “Thanks for lending me the magazine,” I said and gave it back to her.

      “You’re welcome,” she said. “Great cover isn’t it?”

      “It is,” I said. And then I decided to be very bold. “Hey, can I ask you a question?”

      “Shoot,” she said.

      I lowered my voice to a whisper. “Well, it’s a bit of a personal question, but, you see, I’m doing some research for a health magazine and I wondered. Do you, um… douche?”

      She looked at me in a sideways way and didn’t say anything. The photograph of Scarlett stared out at me from her seat pocket.

      “Sorry,” I said. “Let’s pretend I never asked you that.”

      “Okay,” she said, still looking at me in that sideways way.

      “Okay,” I said. I pulled my eye mask on in a hurry and faked sleep. This is what it is like to lose your mind, I told myself.

      Douche: a shower in French; not a shower in English.

      I guess I drifted off for a while then, because the next thing I knew the girl was tapping me on the shoulder. I pulled off my mask and looked at her.

      “I do,” she said quietly. “I mean, I have. I mean, I do sometimes.”

      “You do?”

      “Yeah, but only with Diet Coke after we, you know, do it.”

      “We?”

      “Yeah, dudes.”

      “Diet Coke?”

      “Yeah, so I don’t get pregnant. It kills sperm.”

      In my head I said this to myself: The girl with long hair douches with Diet Coke after she does it with dudes so she doesn’t get pregnant.

      “Thanks for sharing that with me,” I said.

      “That’s okay,” she said.

      “Will you excuse me?” I asked.

      “Sure,” she said.

      In the airplane bathroom I splashed cold water on my face and dried it off with a paper towel. I looked in the mirror and noticed that I had airplane hair. Oh well, I thought. My eyes were bloodshot too. Never mind. I tried out Scarlett’s pose, a sleepy-eyed pout, but couldn’t get the lips right. My pucker was more like a dog’s bum. “Things are very strange,” I mouthed, still watching myself in the mirror. “I think a glossy magazine just spoke to me, and all it said was the word ‘douche.’”

      And that was IT. That was the epiphany. That was my moment of clarity. The big breakthrough. Eureka.

      I said it again, “Douche,” and as the word took shape in my mouth my expression became the expression of a model. I had the perfect pout. Then it was gone. I tried whispering this time. “Douche.” Gorgeous. And again. “Douche.” Amazing. Now I had the secret. Never again would I say “cheese” for the camera.

      When I got back to my seat the girl next to me gave me a conspiratorial look. She leaned over.

      “You were gone a long time,” she said. “Were you, um, you know, in there?”

      “Sort of,” I said. And with my newfound peace of mind, I let myself fall into a deep sleep.

      When we finally touched down I was the third person off the plane. I remembered there being a photo booth in the airport terminals and bypassed the luggage carousel to look for it. When I found it, I ducked in, whispered the d-word four times for the camera, and found the results to be very pleasing. I looked amazing.

      With the strip of pictures in my pocket and a lovely feeling inside, I made my way back to pick up my bags. I didn’t get far, though, before I passed a newsstand and stopped dead. On the rack before me there were thirty Scarletts midway through saying “douche” for the camera. Sophie Dahl was saying it. J. Lo was saying it. Even Gael García Bernal was douching. I felt myself blush and looked around to see if anyone else was seeing what I was seeing. There were people all around me, hurrying to and from airplanes, pulling luggage and children along with them. And not one of them seemed to notice.

      And not one of them looked amazing.


       

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      Topics: Amanda Maxwell, How to Look Amazing In Photographs, Fiction, short story

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