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By James Stegall
These are images more invasive than any Victoria's Secret spread, because they don't inspire lust. This is a pornography of regret, and the longer you stare, the more seductive it becomes. These sixty pages are a self-pity trap; any sane lonely man would do well to avoid them.
But there it waits in the mailbox — two copies, in fact — waiting to snap its poisoned jaws. Why am I receiving this? you might ask. Then you remember that she bought products from this company, and on first glance it's easy to see why: this is Spiegel-light, clothing for the multi-tasking young mom when she's not wearing Petite Sophisticate at the office.
These women have long green fields waiting fuzzily in the background. They gaze into the distance; they smile ruminatively downward; they hold confident eye contact with the camera. These are women who aren't afraid to wear flannel pajamas. They are comfortable in their roles as accomplished, sexy everything-women.
You have to look closer to see what truly makes the models special, though, what elevates them above Victoria's Secret: they have wrinkles around their eyes. These women have laugh lines, taut necks, and that slight tummy that can be so, so sexy. These are not the airbrushed dolls of ignorant fantasy. These women are real.
And their eyes: Is it pain in their eyes? Are there any illusions left there — about life, about men?
Recognizing this, the astute porn addict pages through and counts men. Pages with males only number ten out of sixty. In three of those pictorials, the heads are cut off. In the fifty remaining pages of pictures, all the women are alone.
These women don't need you. These are careerists in full ownership of what they have cut loose.
For the lonely man, staring at these women is gazing into bitter, beautiful loss.
For a second, studying the supposedly idealized images of men in the catalog — the ideal man for these uber-women? Your replacement? — the old anger flashes: These guys are dorks! They're wearing clothes chosen by their women - turtlenecks and non-Levi's jeans, monogrammed, $50 button-down shirts with matching ties. . . khakis.
These are men who deserve to have their faces cropped out, emasculated by the inability to even choose their own clothing. Men pictured holding babies as if it's some kind of rare event. What self-respecting, self-dressing man wears a black turtleneck — with corduroys, no less?
Just as the old self-affirming anger rises up, turn the page to find a gorgeous, short-haired mom in fleece jacket and matching hat and gloves, and all the actualization turns into bile.
Let her dress me. I should have agreed to everything.
Wanting these women. Not wanting these women. Wishing you hadn't said flannel pajamas made her look like her mother — this is mental quicksand. This catalog is the new Playboy, and nothing else will satisfy. The thought of even talking to someone who hasn't felt the pain, who doesn't have the crow's feet and those eyes — it's just not the same.
Everything you want, every mistake you can't change, stands two feet away behind a glass wall. Every man she might be fucking is the headless male model. Each page of Lands' End fantasy is a perfect scene in the wonder of her new life without you. But these aren't plastic dolls; the model's eyes won't allow you to reduce their reality. She is still the woman you loved.
Maybe she even still loves you; she just can't live with you anymore. In the same way these pages hold you at a distance, wanting her turns the mistakes of your life into pornography.
So can you masturbate to this? What's your new porn good for but leading to alcoholism and sobbing? These are forms of release but they aren't going to do your prostate any good. Don't worry — Lands' End is looking out for you. Toward the back, just before the comfortable sandal section, waits the swimsuit spread.
Now, these are special swimsuits, for real women. They slim and wrap. They emphasize and detract. These are the suits that populate the memories of men who know. These are the patterns and shapes of all-inclusive vacations and honeymoons. These are the suits of vibrant, sandy memories, of salt on skin and the unexpected pleasure of peeling back spaghetti straps to rub lotion into her exposed back, her head turned to the side, drifting asleep beneath your warm hands.
I hate you, Lands' End. n°
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