Helen stared into her closet as she pondered what to wear that night. It was the third Saturday of the month, time for her and her friends’ big Girls Night Out. They were going to hit the town, have dinner and some drinks, and hopefully meet some good men. Helen had had some luck in the past with men, but found it hard to find the right guy. On a scale of 1-10 she was about a 7. She had a good figure and a cute if plain face, light blue eyes, and straight brown hair. Her breasts were a decent size, and she stayed in shape. Yet she always seemed to wind up talking to men who were a little dorky, awkward, or effeminate. On the occasions she’d brought a man home, she often felt unsatisfied by the standard, perfunctory sex that took place. She wanted a man.
Getting ready for Girls Nights Out was easy by then. Years earlier, the government banned all forms of physical enhancements, including makeup, plastic surgery, high heeled shoes, and clothing that in any way revealed or accentuated one’s privates. The legislation was a major victory for those who sought to free people, especially women, from the pressure of unattainable standards of beauty and health. Men were affected by the law, but it was mostly women who were suddenly liberated from the time, effort, and anxiety that came with trying to look “pretty” for the patriarchy.
The nation now teemed with au naturals. Eyebrows grew thicker, wrinkles shone through unvarnished skin, and body parts sagged with age and gravity. The playing field was supposedly leveled, and yet Helen did not feel pretty enough. When she was out, whether at a club or at work, she saw which women got more attention than others.
As these thoughts passed through her head while she stared into the closet, Helen suddenly noticed a large beetle crawling up the woodwork. It moved slowly, its black shell following its tiny antennae as if it were programmed. Helen walked to her dresser and grabbed a magazine. Having grown up on a farm, she had killed many bugs and mice without thought. She swatted the beetle to the floor, then stepped on it emphatically with her shoe, smashing it. The beetle carcass secreted an ink-like black paste on the clean tile floor.
Not being squirmish, Helen stared at the mess for some time. She was about to clean it, but she saw a muddler in her kitchen and grabbed it. She then scooped the pasty black mess into the muddler. Out of a quiet curiosity, she mashed it up, removing the outer beetle shell pieces, leaving only a black paste in the bowl.
That night, Helen met her girlfriends at the club. Her friends gave her a lot of second glances, and privately agreed there was something different about Helen, but could not figure out what it was. In the low lighting of the bar, her eyelashes seem longer, and her eyes bigger, giving her a youthful glow, almost innocent. But that would have been impossible – women weren’t allowed to use cosmetics.
Until that night, Helen’s friend Susan had always been one-up on her when it came to attracting attention. Susan was slim, naturally pretty, with good hips. She was an A-cup, but her coquettish nature and lovely feminine features always made up for her smallish bust. However, Susan saw that night that Helen not only was getting more male attention, she seemed to be more confident about it. Not only were Helen’s eyes suddenly Betty Boop-like, but her breasts had always been a little bit bigger. “I’m prettier than Helen,” Susan thought to herself – though she was now unsure.
The next month, before the next Girls Night Out, Susan was analyzing one of her bras. All bras were now the same standard design and beige color. They held the breasts in place with little movement, were thick enough to keep even the most determined nipples from showing, and otherwise did their jobs. Of course many women would have preferred to eliminate the bra as it was seen as a patriarchal harness of female anatomy, but they acknowledged that a nation teeming with unrestrained breasts might cause more problems for women than it would solve.
Susan closed her curtains and went to the drawer for a scissors. She cut part of the cups so that they would only support and cover the bottom half of her perky boobs. She found some pipe cleaners and some ladies’ shoulder pads, and after several frustrated attempts, found a way to sew them into the lining to give the bra a little more “lift” and to create something you never saw anymore: Cleavage. She stared at herself in the mirror, looking at the line in the center of her chest where her breasts pushed together. “Probably no one will even notice,” she said to herself.
At the next Girls’ Night out, Susan was the belle of the ball. The handsome, masculine men who talked to her could not help but let their eyes drift downward to her heaving bosom. In her tank top, her soft breasts were not only partially exposed, but a distinct beauty mark could now be seen on the top of the left one. When she danced to the music on the juke box with her girl friends, her breasts bounced in scandalous ways that seemed to draw stares from just about everyone – females included.
Pretty soon, all the women in the Girls Night Out group were clandestinely finding new ways to compete. Tanya mixed some Crayola red crayons in water and mashed it, then applied the paste to her lips. They looked full and ravishing. Gwen realized by adding some pink chalk to her cheeks, she would appear flushed as if in mid-orgasm. Natalia put some wedges in her shoes which pushed her heels up into her leg muscles, making her ass look rounder and shapelier. Soon these women were outmaneuvering their natural betters in the mating arena. They suffered a lot of vitriol and antagonism from theretofore better looking women, but it was worth it. Susan, for one, didn’t see the harm with a little “accentuation.” She remembered when she was young and her family moved out of an old Victorian house and into a newer one. Her parents gave the old house a fresh paint job before placing it on the market. The house had never looked better and sold at asking price in a few weeks. It was still the same house they’d lived in, with the same plumbing problems and the same drafty living room, but the buyers simply loved it.
The Girls Night Out group, after a few years of dating, all eventually found men to marry and have children with. Now in their late 30s, they could feel the unmerciful tug of nature and time more than ever before. With children in tow, it was harder than ever to find time to make homemade beauty products and accessories, but they found the time. Helen, Susan, and the rest still wanted their husbands to find them attractive, to romance them, and to fuck them well. They also knew that a younger generation had imitated their methods. The Anti-Enhancement laws were technically still on the books, but were rarely enforced anymore, as women privately acknowledged that it was unfair for them to be at a disadvantage when everyone else was finding ways to highlight or accentuate their features. Helen and her friends thus knew that if they did not continue to attract their husbands, perhaps some young tart would, and that would be no good for the survival of their families.
Helen’s daughter Claudia often watched her mother put on the homemade makeup in her bathroom. When she was young, Claudia would ask if she, too, could wear makeup, since it made her mom look even prettier. Helen told her that she was too young, but that when the time was right, she would teach her not only how to wear makeup, but how to be nice to boys. “Boys are gross!” Claudia exclaimed, as young girls often do.
A few years later, Claudia’s repulsed attitude toward boys had softened to friendliness and mild curiosity. Some of her friends had reported being kissed by their “boyfriends.” Claudia approached her mother about wearing makeup and jewelry, too. Helen thought about it. Was it right to teach an adolescent to paint and shape herself in such an “adult” way? On the other hand, if Claudia didn’t start learning about her body, boys, and what makes her comfortable now, she might start down a road of disadvantage, awkwardness, or worse. If she kept dressing like a nine year old into middle school and high school, to ridicule and exclusion, what might become of her as an adult? Would it then be too late? These were the difficult decisions Helen knew she’d have to make when raising her child.
Helen thought hard about it. She didn’t want to discourage Claudia, but she didn’t want to push her, either. After all, Helen remembered, she herself hadn’t kissed a boy until she was 16. She’d been afraid to.
She looked her daughter in the eyes and told her she would help her with whatever Claudia felt comfortable doing. If anything seemed to be moving to fast or too far, there was no pressure; she could still be a little girl if she wanted to. “Tell me what you want and I’ll help you,” she assured her daughter.
Without hesitation came young Claudia’s answer.
“I want to marry a man like daddy someday, so…I want to look pretty like you.”
* * *
For Susan, things hadn’t gone so smoothly. She maintained her figure and held onto her looks, exercising regularly and eating right. She did her best to raise her kids right. She thought she’d married the right man, but Herman seemed to be different at 38 than he was at 28. Back then, he was so self-assured, ambitious, and physically nothing to sneeze at. She remembered noticing his biceps when they first met.
Yet there was Herman, just ten years later but looking like he’d aged 20. He sat on the couch, beer in hand and resting balanced on his considerable paunch. He gazed into the unblinking eye of the TV, which beamed its MMA fights and sitcom reruns back at him. Herman still did work around the house and in the garage, but he did it grudgingly. The couple hadn’t hired a babysitter in months, and the family ate most of its meals in front of the TV. The only times Susan ever seemed to go out on the town was with her friends. She’d noticed that even at her age, she still attracted good looking men. On a couple of occasions, she’d been drunk and made out with a 20-something guy for kicks. She felt guilty about those incidents, but she could not escape the sense of thrill that came with it. More mature men at the office tended to check her out and flirt with her, too, and she rationalized it as okay since she was now the loan breadwinner. Herman hadn’t had a job in months and didn’t seem to want one. He didn’t seem to want anything. If it hadn’t been for the porn she’d discovered on his laptop, Susan would have guessed he’d lost interest in females too, since he hadn’t initiated sex in more than a year.
The more she thought about it, the more Susan believed a fresh start was necessary. Why, after all, should she suffer and let her good looks go to waste before she loses them forever?
When she left him, Herman was indeed crushed. It took him weeks to recover and accept the loss. He drank a lot at first, but gradually he weaned himself off the beer and started waking up earlier. His house was in some disrepair, and he figured it would be a good distraction to work on it. As he labored in the summer sun, he ate less, and his weight began to drop. Not only that, but Herman found he truly enjoyed painting, carpentry, and landscaping, and was quite good at it. His neighbors took notice at the home improvement, and offered to pay him to paint their house, too. Pretty soon Herman was getting offers from around the neighborhood, and then around town. More, in fact, than he could handle alone, so he went into business and hired a small staff. Herman didn’t get filthy rich, but he had an air of contentment about him that he hadn’t felt in years. He simply loved being outdoors, working on homes, and hanging with the guys he worked with. He also realized he hadn’t turned on his TV in weeks.
One night, out with the guys for a few beers, a smiling Herman reflected on his marriage to and divorce from Susan. He seemed to have lost any trace of bitterness over the matter; in fact he and Susan got along well now as they both did their best to raise their child. “I should thank her,” Herman said to the surprise of his buddies. “She did me a favor. I was going nowhere fast, or backward, really. I had no direction, no desire, no passion. I was consuming without producing. Beer, television, microwave dinners…” In a moment of unusual self-awareness, Herman remarked, “I had become a vessel for the products of others. Nothing more.”
But, lightening the strangely deep mood, Herman joked that now he felt pretty damned good. The fellas all did a “cheers” and clinked their beer mugs before taking the next gulp. The lessons of Herman’s life sank in with some but maybe not others that night. In any case, each man would have his own path to walk, and each would be different. Herman looked around at his friends, and he knew that some would do better than others, some would learn, while others would repeat the same mistakes. He could only offer his advice to them whether they chose to take it or not. In his inner peace, Herman knew he could control only himself, and he was okay with that. He was okay with all of it. After all, he thought, nobody had yet petitioned the government to pass a law banning ambition, and it was likely that nobody ever would.