First published on transatlantic webzine The Bees Are Dead
The Zeitgeist has a way of swinging back and forth between extremes as it searches for a healthy equilibrium. When this pendulum finally settled in our modern times, fashion followed. Shirts and blouses had to go to the wrists, and pants to the ankles. Open-toed shoes vanished from the shelves and gloves came back in vogue—but it still wasn’t enough. There were graceful necks, stretched proudly like the bust of Nefertiti. There were Adam’s apples bobbing, peeking collarbones, and the divot they surrounded. All of it was too much of a sexual distraction. Propriety dictated that stiff, Velcro collars rise higher and higher.
And what of hair? Who can ignore hair when it is freshly shampooed and catching the sun? And curly? And straight? And blonde, and brunette, and red? Who can ignore the hair under one’s arms, or the soft down leading from the navel to—serious trouble? The Hair Issue was brought to the lawmakers, and ears were thrown in for good measure. Some politicians didn’t want to outlaw ears, but it was one of those multi-item bills that you voted for or against as a whole. At least, that was how the politicians explained their verdict to the rest of the country. If you didn’t vote against ears, then you didn’t vote against hair, and no politician wanted to be labeled soft on hair. Fabric soon swallowed everything but one’s face, like a Python biding its time.
Two years of quiet passed before a group of concerned and unemployed citizens noticed a glaring contradiction…and took it to court. If hair was illegal, they argued, shouldn’t eyebrows be illegal as well? The justices decided that eyebrows were indeed hair, and ruled in the citizens’ favor. Eyebrows were a no-no, but covering them proved difficult. A few people grew out their bangs, stupidly trying to hide hair with hair. Those thick forelocks, swaying in wind like a Shetland pony’s, attracted attention and led to arrest.
Inevitably, hoods just had to sit lower on the face—which was annoying and uncomfortable. The edge of the fabric kept dipping into people’s eyes, but moving it manually was too dangerous. Most got into the habit of sticking out their lower lip and blowing up a quick puff of air. This led to a momentary glimpse of the forbidden, which explains why it became an act of flirtation.
After the success of the Eyebrows Campaign, there was no stopping the power of the people. Millions of opinions streamed through the network and pooled together in online forums. They all agreed that something had to be done about mouths. Here government was banning ears, which were sensitive but nothing to write home about, when there were mouths—practically pornographic—hanging out in the open. Mouths were (screaming whisper) ORAFICES after all. Company forecasters saw the demand, and acted on it quickly. Collars inched up to the nose with a zipper over the mouth for eating and drinking in the privacy of one’s home.
Finally, the pendulum almost at rest, all focus went to the eyes. Just what is the obsession with eyes anyway? Eyeballs are lifeless when removed from their nest of skin and lash, and a face is an empty mask without them. So what makes the whole so beautiful? Why does it feel like you are looking at someone naked through their eyes? Nudity is wrong. Beauty is sexual and dangerous. Visible eyes became a ballot initiative that the country voted against. No one said democracy would be easy, but maybe they should have.
A high-tech mesh was sewn onto the border of the hood, crossing over the bridge of the nose. Viewers couldn’t see into the mesh but a person could see out…well…nearly. Things were blurry and a uniform gray, but shapes were easily identifiable. The slight impairment created an opportunity for humanity’s sense of smell. After thousands of years on the backburner, smell was suddenly essential once more. People used their noses to identify relatives, pending rain and sour milk. They took classes and had operations to enhance their sense of smell. Noses were pretty unsexy, and so were safe from politicians and registered voters.
Unfortunately, with every advantage, there is a disadvantage. We got a little too comfortable hiding. We make ugly faces at each other behind our hoods and smile during funerals. We sewed a button-fly over our crotches so we never have to take off our layers and layers of fabrics. We feel more “protected” when evacuating our bowels or copulating. Perhaps it’s more fun to imagine what our spouses look like beyond their noses than to be disappointed with the real thing. Still, the costs add up if you know where to look. They make us think back over the last decade and wonder how we got here.
Doubts never last very long, of course. Just listen to the children who reject our justifications of the past. They learn about history in school. They study the artifacts in textbook spreads of bound feet, pierced faces, scarification, breast implants, corsets, anorexia, violent pornography, fat flesh bulging out of tight jeans shorts, old people with turkey wattle and liver spots, etc.. “How could you live like that?” they screech. We try to explain the pendulum, but they are too young to have witnessed its arc. “Things swing back and forth between extremes before they settle in the middle,” we tell our children. “It took us a lot of back and forth to get where we are now.” They don’t say anything because they don’t understand the Zeitgeist. Perhaps they are making faces at us, because their noses are wrinkled in distaste.