Man, I Feel Like a Woman!





These images present a visualization of the ways in which, over time, we decorate and alter our forms and succumb to wanting to control how we're perceived. Throughout our lives we adjust our physicality and digital presence to present who we want to be and who we are inside.

This series play into themes of body, self, and expression. Inspired by Shylock’s infamous request in Shakespeare’s A Merchant of Venice, I imagined the body as a “pound of flesh,” presenting a timeline as the subject is molded through different physical stages.

I was also largely inspired by a Tracy Cox poem in which she writes, “Your weight fluctuations, in every iteration, are deeply human, and absolutely devoid of moral implication.” This poem really spoke to me, as I've always had a complicated relationship with my body and sense of self. To be able to interpret and analyze these feelings visually, thinking of my body as piece of clay that I can mold and change throughout my life, felt like a creative release.

Allowing the model to style herself, the subject becomes an exaggerated representation of her own inner sense of self. The last image is a flux of Facetune, speaking to how we express ourselves on social media.



Photos by Lucy Badger
Modeled by Anna Dewhirst

Shoo Fly


“Shoo, fly, don't bother me... 

For I belong to somebody.” 

Pink galah cockatoo gather in the dewy grass, pecking breakfast. Squawk and squabble at each other. 

A fat old magpie flies down to join them. Galahs shuffle away. 

A loner pecks the earth alone. 

The front door bangs open, startling the flock. Birds shriek and flap their wings, scattering into the air. Take off to the sanctuary of gum trees and bushlands. But the greying magpie stays put, unbothered. 

The man waddles outside. Pats his pockets, checking for his wallet. Walks past the open garage. But no car. Sold years ago. No need for it anymore. He sets off now, whistling. 

The sky is gummed with deep green clouds rolling on the horizon. A summer storm brews. 

He scowls out across the wide, distant ocean. Feels salty breeze billow over his balding scalp. 


***

He spends another night planted in his armchair, chugging beer and scoffing down battered seafood and chips. His singlet is speckled with yellow crumbs like dandruff. 

The old man stuffs a piece of cod into his mouth, washes it down with a swig of warm beer. An ad break darts on and his mind circles back to the ocean again. 

He punches the remote, trying to turn the sound up louder than it can go. 

The thunder roars louder. 

Randy is just about to crack open his fifth beer of the night when a huge crash rumbles the side of the house. He grunts and pushes the footrest down. Getting up, he leaves his food and beer on the lino. He moves over to the bottom of the stairs. 

Looking up, he can see the high window above. A gum tree has fallen onto the house. 


*** 

He rolls over, woken by the galahs outside his window. Something whizzes through his periphery. He rubs sleep from his crusty eyes and opens them. 

Randy gets up and stands over his bed. He waits. When the fly is within reach he swipes the air, misses. He tries again and catches it in one hand. “Gotcha.” 

It crawls around in there, pregnant and slow. 

Randall hobbles downstairs, opens the front door with his elbow and lets the fly out into the early morning sun. Then he walks into the kitchen, digging around in the third drawer. Comes back with an ancient roll of sticky tape. Peels off the last little strip and sticks it over the hole upstairs. 

Randy shuffles over to the living room and bends to take a seat. He stands in a half-crouch, listening for it: the buzzing again. 

He peels back the blinds that hang over the sliding living room doors. Three or four of them are scattered on the glass. Crawling here and there, taking off or landing. 

Randy smacks one with his hand. Two. Then another. 

The first two fall to the floor. Another lies splattered on glass. The last one is stuck to the palm of his hand. He wipes them off, cringing. He scrapes the four tiny bodies up with an old magazine and dumps them in the bin beneath the sink. 

He walks over to the stairs, climbing them up past where the tree fell last night. 

Slivers of green and brown show through where the tree is still squashed up against the side of the house like a rugby player on TV paused mid-tackle. 

He isn’t fussed about it. No broken glass, no harm done. Someone can take a look at it later.

Once at the top of the stairs he grabs another magazine, rolling it up. He moves closer to his bedroom door, easing it open. He can hear the buzzing before the door is even fully open.

Much louder than before. 

He is back downstairs and out the door before he can think twice about it. 


*** 


In his room again he despatches of at least half a dozen more flies. Spraying the air with a massive can of bug spray, slowing them down, dizzying their senses until they’re tap-dancing up and down the walls. Then he flings a swatter at them, bursting their bodies into tiny red-and-white splotches of blood and unborn maggots. He scurries over to the window and tapes up the holes there. 

Holes he hasn’t noticed before. Or maybe they have always been there. 

He checks downstairs. There are at least a dozen in the living room, buzzing in and out of the kitchen, up and down the hallway. 

One lands on his hairy, naked chest. He smacks it with his hand. An unborn maggot squirts there like pus from a pimple. Another lands on his arm. He smacks it with the swatter, discharging blood over his forearm. 

Randy peers at the glass living room doors. Covered with at least two dozen more. He leaps at the glass, spraying them into states of delirium, then crushing with the swatter. 

Their bodies fall below. Some survive, scraping with a clipped wing or abdomen. The living few crawl around in the narrow door frame. 

Randy bends to the floor, swinging at the surviving flies. Blood and maggot marks are splotched all over the glass.

He grabs a larger roll of duct tape from the kitchen drawer, peeling off grey strips and patching up all the holes on the screens here too. 

As he trudges upstairs, his tired head drifts back to the ocean. He thinks of the deep blue recurring nightmare, a rubber mask over a terrified face, a world clogged in bubbles, that image playing on repeat like the tide. 

That persistent buzzing intrudes again. He drops the duct tape. It tumbles down the stairs and back into the living room. 

He peels back the blinds over the stairs. Flies come streaming out, bursting up to the ceiling. Huge gashes in the window screen show where they got through. 

He swings madly at the window. Glass cracks open. Shatters to pieces. Broken glass collapses around him. Shards fall in his hair and on his shoulders. Cut his stomping feet. 

He is reaching high up the walls with the swatter. Misses three for every one he hits. Overwhelming. Like waves. Or bubbles. Suffocating him. 

They’re moving upstairs into the bathroom. Even more flies are trickling out from there.

Spots of blood are drying in the carpet. Others drying on the walls. He limps to the landing and into the bathroom, the fallen tree still resting on the house when he looks back. 

Flies are spiraling past the mirrored cabinet. Darting into the ceiling vent. 

He places the can and swatter on the sink, turning to see himself in the mirror. He is bright red with exhaustion and slick with sweat. There are marks of blood all over his body. 

He raises his arms high. Up on tip-toe now, on tiles that were white yesterday. He stretches for the air vent. 

His fingers clasp the edge of the vent. Tug on the plastic cover. It strains, persistent. He pulls harder, mustering the little energy he has left.

The cover pops off. They cover him in a swarm, a veil of writhing bodies and loud wings. 

He stumbles, blinded. Falls out of the bathroom. No direction. Swipes at air. 

He trips backwards, closer to the stairs. His body bends with the ache in his cut feet. Knees bent at odd angles, balance off. He slips on the top step. 

Falls hard. Arms thrown out wide, scraping at walls. His neck hits the wall first. Broken glass digs deeper into him like fingernails. 

Body rolls and bends with the stairs. Drops the last few steps. Lying on his back with his face bent upwards to the ceiling. Flies continue to crawl over his blank, empty face. 

His heart seizes up. 

The last thing he thinks about is the ocean. A masked face, stretching wide with panic, trying to say something to him. Her head wrapped in a halo of bubbles, screaming dulled by water. 

Outside on the lawn, a flock of galahs screech murder. An old magpie flaps its wings, skipping away from the pink flock. 

The galahs flap their wings and click their beaks. Twist their necks and try to bite the black, white and grey feathers. The magpie finally gives in, flying away to the gum trees.



By Sean West
Image courtesy of ugliboidesigns

Deconstructing My Dream of the “Elite” University


I go to my dream school. And I did what I had to do in order to get here. By that, I mean I did everything that an applicant vying for admission to a selective university is supposed to do: AP courses, subject tests, carefully chosen extracurriculars relating to a specific area of interest—and not too many of them, either, because you are, of course, not supposed to do random things just to do them. I’m saying this with a little bit of bitterness, because most of those things were done out of deep insecurity, a nagging feeling that I was never really doing enough. Those emotions have followed me all the way to Atlanta. 

My upbringing was focused on very little besides getting into college, and a “good” one at that. I remember being nine years old, watching my teenage sisters flip feverishly through SAT vocabulary flashcards. Both of them ultimately attended Ivy League universities, and after their graduations, it was my time to be molded into the perfect college candidate. There were test-prep classes and math tutors, long conversations about Naviance statistics and the latest U.S. News rankings. Whenever I mentioned colleges I was interested in, I was immediately met with questions from my parents: What’s it ranked? What’s the acceptance rate? Colleges touting a national rank below 30 might be scoffed at; colleges with acceptance rates above 45% were “too easy.” I was often told that I could do better, that I needed to strive for more, and I learned to believe it. After all, I had been given big shoes to fill.

During my sophomore year of high school, I started visiting online forums dedicated to college admissions, where past admittees posted their “stats”—extracurricular activities, test scores, and the like. In a Google Doc, I obsessively pored over my own activities and grades, noting where I paled in comparison to the people whose lives I had read about online. He was waitlisted, even though he had perfect stats—what does that mean for you? She was accepted with a low GPA, but she also did really cool lab research—and you haven’t. Never mind the fact that I was completely uninterested in doing lab research of any kind; the point was that I simply wasn’t doing enough of anything. 

And so I tried my best to become the person who did it all, and did it well. I tried to become more like my Ivy League sisters, more like the accepted kids on College Confidential. Soon, I was looking at a near-picture-perfect Common Application. Academic achievement? I was an AP Scholar with Distinction, on track to graduate Magna Cum Laude. Standardized testing? My ACT score was in the 99th percentile. Extracurricular involvement? I logged volunteer hours at a museum and a therapeutic horseback riding facility; I served as the managing editor of Lithium Magazine, won national awards for my poetry, and had said poetry published in a literary journal. 

I sent my college applications out, crossing my fingers for Emory University. It was perfect. It boasted a beautiful campus just outside of a bustling city, a diverse student body, a celebrated creative writing program. Moreover, its #21-in-the-nation ranking and 19% acceptance rate gave it all the trappings of a parent-pleasing university. When my early admission came in December, it felt like an affirmation, one letter holding all of the validation I had been craving for years. Finally, I knew that I was enough.

By every possible measure of pre-college success, I belonged at an elite university. So being here was fine at first. I mean, I had taken all those classes! Done all that stuff for magazines! 

No amount of extracurricular activities, though, could have prepared me for what everyone else was doing. 

It’s a tale as old as time, really. Kid who was smart in high school goes to college and realizes that everyone around them was also smart in high school. Naive college freshman realizes that, wow, nothing you do at the age of fifteen actually holds any weight in the real world. However, I still couldn’t help but notice that so many studentsfirst-semester freshmen included!—seemed to have high-ranking leadership positions. I had joined a handful of clubs, but I wasn’t on any executive councils. My friends were somehow constantly busy with club meetings, interviews for board positions, fundraising for their charity work. And I was doing nothing.

The thing is, I knew that opportunities wouldn’t just fall into my lap. I knew that I had to actively search for them. I saw everyone else working harder than me, and I knew that I had it in me to catch up. I could have applied for an executive board, run for a hall council position. But I didn’t, and I couldn’t figure out what was holding me back from doing the things I thought I loved.

Then I realized it. Most of my high school involvement had been empty. I had interviewed filmmakers and writers, penned pieces about inclusion. And I was passionate about this, sure; I loved to write. But at the end of the day, it had all been so performative. I loved this thing so much, but I did it only opportunistically. Everything was calculated and purely chosen for impressiveness.

I put in little work to become the writer I actually wanted to be, and used “writer” only as an identity for college admissions essays, as an area under which all my extracurricular activities could fall. 

The campus newspaper offers press passes so its Arts & Entertainment writers can attend film screenings. Showing times are sent in a group chat, and anyone can take them. This was right up my alley, and yet I never took a single pass or went to any screenings. And why? Because the article I would write for the paper would no longer be written with the goal of college in mind. I had no idea how to write if not for payment or for boasting purposes. Meanwhile, the other people on staff at the paper wrote because they loved it, not because they were applying for something.

With this writing-specific realization came a larger one, too. I realized that I had been using college as a remedy for all of my insecurity. It existed in my mind as a faraway place that I was constantly working toward, a single purpose for all my actions. Once the goal of admission disappeared, so did my reason to do things. I had constructed a hollow profile of a person—accomplished and digestible enough to get into college, but devoid of much else. I was great on paper, and awful off of it. 

I need to disclaim that I am incredibly grateful to attend Emory. My classes and professors are intriguing; my friends are wonderful; the city of Atlanta is absolutely unmatched. And I also need to disclaim that I place no blame for my college obsessions on my parents or siblings. My parents pushed me to pursue an elite dream because they wanted the best possible future for me. (Also, the idea of Chinese immigrant parents making personal sacrifices so their kids can attend college and secure good futures is a whole different piece for me to write.)

Where do I go from here? How do I address these weighty—and frankly embarrassing—realizations about myself?

The answer is unclear to me, but I’m trying my best to work on it. A few weeks ago, I pushed myself to do something, and I ended up being a speaker at an on-campus TEDx event. I wrote a ten-minute talk, took the stage, and spoke about something I was passionate about—really passionate about—for a crowd of students, not because I had to get into something, but just because I wanted to. I applied to become an editorial intern for the campus newspaper, and every Tuesday, I sit in the office and learn the basics of layout and design. 

It might not be much, but I’m starting somewhere.


By Julianna Chen

Gazing at Myself


In the Notes app on my phone, there is a list entitled “books of high school.” I made it at the end of my freshman year with the intention of cataloguing all the books I would read in high school, both for class (in bold) and for pleasure (in italics). There are freshman-year classics, of course: Romeo and Juliet, Fahrenheit 451, Catcher in the Rye. And then there are the rest. There are a few dozen books on that list, indicating what I’ve read over the last three-and-a-half years.

Most of the list was a lie.

The required books, for the most part, were honest; we only read a few books each year in my English classes, so it’s never been too difficult to stay on top of that work. It’s the recreational reading list that was tainted with insecurity.

I never read In Cold Blood. I never read Catch-22. I never read Beloved. I never read Educated or Half of a Yellow Sun or A Grace Paley Reader. Yet still they sat in the note, a symbol of my intellectual facade.

The note was not public, nor was it shared with any specific people. It wasn’t the subject of any discussion or the source of any praise. It existed, in theory, only as an archival record of my reading, just another thing that I could look back on and remember from high school. 

But the literal privacy of the note failed to account for my own relationship to its contents. I felt a sense of guilty validation when I listed a book that I hadn’t read. Even though I knew nobody was going to see this note, records always seemed public to me. Receipts, concert tickets, data—every thing immortalizes its owner. It’s not that I thought my great-great-grandchildren would worship my intellect when they found the Notes app on my long-broken iPhone 6; it’s that I worshipped my intellect when I saw the Notes app. I saw myself as someone who lived up to her Ivy League applications and the praise she received from adults, the “gifted kid” label and the childhood Rory Gilmore obsession.

Self-delusion is not new to me. I think my tendency toward performance has been growing over the last few years, as I’ve become inextricably attached to social media, as I’ve thought about what kind of career I want, as I’ve daydreamed about romanticized people and lives. After years of dealing with toxic relationships and mental illness and gaslighting and pain, it’s actually really hard to separate reality from romanticization. 

But another part of me loves archives. The metro ticket from when I went to Paris, the Lollapalooza wristband, the handwritten Cavetown setlist that I caught: all these things seem to pulse with the energy of another time and place. It’s electric. And so I love to keep things, and to journal, and to have a record of my life. Recording and performing are hard to separate, though, and I’m not sure they’re even different at all. My awareness of an audience is strongest when I am alone. I am conscious of what I sound like when I journal, writing my entries as if someone may judge or objectify or know my thoughts. I am my own voyeur, adjusting my appearance and my words and my mind to fit my own desires.

French philosopher Jacques Lacan introduced the idea of the mirror self, using the concept of a baby looking in the mirror. When that baby sees herself, the reflection is cohesive and uncomplicated; the reflection has no thoughts or self or tension, and is therefore glorified and envied. The mirror self is a conceptual framework for our own subjectivity, an example of our desire to be whole. 

My mirror self is basically the girl who reads Half of a Yellow Sun and Educated, a girl who is pretty and smart and completely unaware of pretty much anything. That’s the whole point—my mirror self is an object. My mirror self is my fantasy of intellectualism, a two-dimensional woman that does not exist. Lacan notes, “[The mirror self] is thus fundamentally self-alienating. Indeed, for this reason feelings towards the image are mixed, caught between hatred (‘I hate that version of myself because it is so much better than me’) and love (‘I want to be like that image’).” 

I worship the image, but I hate its nonexistence. I worship what the list represents, but I hate that I’m fragmented and spend a considerable amount of my time listening to the same songs and watching the same TV shows and scrolling through the same feed ad infinitum. I hate my own mediocrity, or more accurately, I hate that I’ve glorified my own self-objectification and destroyed my self-image.

All of this is just to say that I can be really fucking narcissistic, and that I’m trying to unlearn years of adjusting and presenting and gazing. It’s difficult, for sure. Especially because of social media, “living as myself” seems to entail a little bit of isolation. I try to journal for myself instead of an imaginary voyeur, but the audience isn’t really the problem. The problem is the guilt I feel when I don’t journal for months on end. The problem is confronting the twinge of shame I felt when I deleted all the books that I hadn’t read from the list. 

At the peak of the list’s power, when I “read” almost 30 books sophomore year (I probably read less than ten), I was unspeakably annoying. I brought Uncle Tom’s Cabin to my APUSH class and placed it just so on the desk, hoping my teacher would notice my inherent brilliance. First of all, the fact that I checked the book out from my school library with the sole purpose of carrying it so people would notice is beyond mortifying. Second of all, who cares about what my APUSH teacher thinks of me? I am myself, and I shouldn’t need that kind of external validation. As a result of lifelong insecurity, I’ve always been searching for the undivided attention and approval of others. But the person that I present to people is not necessarily the person I am, or the person I want to be.

I revised the list a few months ago, taking out the books that I hadn’t read. It was a little painful, for sure, and the list got shorter, but it’s now a much better reflection of my real self. There are still incredible books on there—ones that I’ve read and loved.

The list is correct now. So far, I’ve only read two books during senior year: Trick Mirror and Foxfire. And I think they are my favorite books I’ve ever read. It took me more time to get through each one, but I’m trying to value quality over quantity. I’m not rushing through classics, skipping hundreds of pages and throwing titles on the list in a race toward a nonexistent win. I’m learning patience and unlearning comparison, and in that, I am embodying myself, not looking at an objectified reflection.


By Katherine Williams

Boys










This project is about masculinity, sexuality, and transition from the point of view of three transgender men in my life. The project expanded to become a photographic personal project about transgender men and transgender women that I called Boys & Girls, which comes out on 2020. Meeting with each of them gave me a different perspective on everything—these guys are the ones who will teach other kids about themselves, about their identities and their rights and why they need to keep fighting for their future. 

Transgender men can be feminine or masculine; they can wear a ton of make-up or none at all. There’s no one correct way to present as transgender, because everyone lives a different experience. Each one of these models represents these themes. I created this project because I believe their stories needs to be known, and because I know their stories could change other people’s lives. They represent the reality of many transgender men in Argentina. For some of them, their transition is part of their political militancy; for others, it’s an act of freedom.

Photos by Ellie Noctis
Modeled by Feliciano Spano, Mariano Araoz, and Tomas Walger 

I'm Tired of Performing on Social Media


My finger shakes as I hit the redownload button; the adrenaline rushes to my head at the thought of being on Instagram again, of being connected. I missed the instant gratification of having my ideas and words seen by so many people. I type in the password I swore I would forget, and I let my feed flood my screen. For a moment, I’m happy to be back. There are countless group threads I’ve missed and dozens of big announcements I didn’t comment on. But then I remember that there’s a reason I quit in the first place. Social media sucks up hours a day, and not because I’m particularly active on it. In fact, I’m usually scrolling endlessly, wondering how I’ll ever get my work “out there.” If I want to work as a freelancer, I’ll have to learn to how to use social media to my advantage. Suddenly, my worries don’t revolve around how many likes my selfie gets. They revolve around my future as a creator. 


I’ve never quite figured out how to “be myself” online. I’ve had anxiety since I was a kid, and social media seemed like the perfect antidote. YouTubers and Tumblr users in the early 2010s were quirky, weird, open—I looked up to creators like Dodie Clark and Dan Howell, people who were comfortable sharing their lives and work on camera. Years later, both of them would come forward about their mental health struggles, the way they constantly hid parts of themselves from their fanbases, but I didn’t see that. I saw a way to fully express myself. Maybe I could work up the courage to post my writing online, and I wouldn’t have to be confined by my own anxiety. I loved everything from fashion to comics to music, and I wanted to write about it all. Mostly, I loved fiction. Countless authors touted the value of a platform, a place to be your authentic self and sell a product. Now influencer culture is in its prime, with people casting glamours over their ordinary lives and monetizing their own personalities. For me, being online becomes a marketing of the self, from college admissions to publishing opportunities. 


And what if I give the Internet too much? There are plenty of ways to fall into a spiral of envy and comparison, watching the genius of others from a screen. The real poison, as Joseph Gordon Levitt says in his brilliant TED Talk, is viewing other young creatives as competitors instead of companions. We’re all adrift out here, waiting for someone to notice us. The lovely thing about being online is that there’s enough space for all of us—so why do I feel resentment toward my peers? I’ve become so preoccupied with finding an audience that I’ve forgotten about the wealth of inspiring, creative content made by the people that surround me. So I obsess. I curate. I become someone else. 


The poet Kate Tempest puts it plainly: “Here’s me outside the palace of me!” Carefully-pruned Instagram feeds, Twitter bios that read like resumes, even the deep recesses of Tumblr: they show us the highlight reels and daydreams. They show us the streamlined, market-ready, newest versions of each other. We call it art, and it is: the opportunities are endless. Since we’re the first generation to grow up with this power at our fingertips, we throw ourselves in headfirst. Sometimes, though, we forget to take stock in anything else. I erased the aspects of myself that didn’t “fit” with my online personality; I become a thousand mirrored versions of myself, reflecting and refracting until I’m gone. Sometimes I don’t even remember why I wanted to write in the first place. Where’s the girl who wanted nothing more than to write sci-fi and explore imagined worlds? 


I deleted Instagram again after two days. There’s no healthy way for me to be active on social media, at least not right now; I’ll focus on seeking out advice from other young authors instead of searching for answers I’ll never find in hashtags or explore pages. Breaking the cycle is harder than I thought—harder than it has any right to be. I need to regroup, to recenter my view of the Internet as a playground rather than a battlefield. As I remember why I make things in the first place, I’m also remembering why I sought after social media. I wanted a community, something I never had as a quiet, introverted kid. I’m finding new ways to feed that curiosity and sense of belonging every day, whether it’s through community art classes or reaching out to my favorite content creators. Though the future is tilted toward digital portfolios and online personas, they aren’t all consuming. Until that connection is healthy again, I’ll do the impossible: take a break. 


By MJ Brown
Illustration by Nhung Le for The New York Times