As I lay on the tanning bed, trying to get closer to the sun, I exhale a million thoughts. Anxiety drips into the room, and straight from my face. The screen so close to my face reminds me of elevators. Hyperventilation colours the air too bright. I don’t want to get blind. I’m already asleep. An allegory is a concept that simultaneously destroys and strips reality of its mythical nature in its well-ordered totality. The visual character of allegory lies in the fact that it works with images, sight and scenes that connect the visible with the invisible, both life and dream. To make it even more specific, she adds that a modern allegory is a place where salvation disappears because the modern is characterised precisely by the ever-new and yet always the same at the same time. (Buci-Glucksmann, 207)
It was one of these rainy days when the rain simply makes everything taste sour. In an attempt to spend my lunch break productively, I decided to get my eyebrows done. My head was pounding already. So many things to do in order to be part of this not so revolutionary beauty standard. As my doctor prescribed me a creme for my face, a thin layer of skin had slowly been peeled off already. So when I was aiming for the ideal of seamlessly perfected eyebrows suddenly the lady from the brow bar waxed away skin from my eyelids too. It was too sensitive and my eyes were not ready for this strip of skin. “You’re usually not that red, are you? I’ll put some lavender oil on them to calm your eyelids down.” She could do whatever she wanted, I thought. Or no, I actually hated her for a minute, blaming her for being too aggressive and not doing her job properly and delicately. Things I tell myself too when I don’t reach perfection. The lavender oil felt as if candle wax was being poured directly on my eyelids. “No pain no gain”. I repeated the mantra, wishing this to be over. Maybe I didn’t want to be part of the beauty revolution if it meant feeling this. “Thanks, they look beautiful!” I said as confidently as I could and rushed outside.
I was confused, ashamed for not being assertive enough, and in pain actually. Actually, still do not feel beautiful enough. I pull out my phone, mindlessly open the app again, scroll for a minute, dry my fingers from the wet screen, and decide to go home. So many things to do, so little time. So there I go, cycling all wet and burning. Thoughts of shame have slowly filled my brain. It now felt like a bucket of shame was poured out inside my head, and trauma’s suddenly made its way to dance around that body of shame. Twenty minutes left. Should I go home, eat, work? Write this work? Confusion takes over my body like a devil invading it.
“Sundays”. I’m dead scared of tanning beds, and I’m embarrassed for even thinking of it. It could be a quick fast fix to be more beautiful and look radiant, glowing. Headlines of articles “tanning beds cause cancer” “tanning beds are bad for your health” et cetera are projected in front of me now. Drenched with old pain, shame and sadness, I decided this would be productive to do, as it’s great experimental research for my writing. I enter, the lady clearly made use of the tanning beds before, and I start wondering if she worked because she liked tanning so much. Or maybe she used them a lot because she worked there. I don’t know, I just keep guessing and thinking for others. “You don’t burn easily do you? Let’s do the medium bed then. I like it, it gives this deep colour effect immediately. You can go to cabin 6”. I didn’t tell her I just burnt my eyebrows and didn’t dare ask if it would be a good idea to burn them even more. Of course, I knew the answer. But sometimes it’s easy to choose the path of self-destruction over salvation. Besides the shame, thoughts of Western beauty standards now made their way through my brain. Not only am I embarrassed for going there, for my past and for my brows. I now also felt deep confusion as to why people love the quick fix so badly if it hurts so much. Getting a tan for pure beauty reasons, 16 minutes of being closer to the sun. A quick fix for a confidence boost and a feeling of a summer holiday. It’s addictive, it’s fast, it’s painful and it’s unhealthy. Now tell me more about addiction. The music that was playing in the booth was what I expected. Heavy pop and dance tracks, a crackling radio sound. The big bed was scary from afar. The indigo and violet tubes were not lit yet, however they scared me. Colours of horror and sounds of, exactly the same. It felt like now I just had to accept it, say yes. Undressing as fast as I could, not leaving room for thought or giving myself the freedom for consent. It’s just like him, them. I was crying on the inside a little. I just wanted to leave, I hate this, why am I doing this to myself. The bed keeps watching me, now with seemingly bigger lights. Waiting impatiently for me to lay on it. It would take over my naked body, touch it where I don’t want it to. Covering every piece of skin that was and is mine. I am that person that hates herself. Old religions are still travelling in my head like voices: through multiple floors and across every room. Can’t place where it’s coming from. Soon I would stand there naked, unveiled. The shame is destroying me, yet the clock keeps ticking in circles. Circular time, I wish I could go back to a few minutes ago. I am gaslighting myself.
I make my body oily. Though my thighs and stroke my arms, an attempt at protecting and loving myself. What would my boyfriend think of me now? Would I tell him? I open the screen. Place my head on this most uncomfortable plastic little pillow. Turn the music down. It reminded me of parties on Spanish coastlines. All splendour, u and tacky glam. Enormous cocktail buckets and shiny jewellery. I had never been to Ibiza but thought this would be exactly what it sounds and feels like. Like the world ending with a horrible sound in the background.
I explored my body. Soft and quite firm and strong. Closed my eyes. Dead scared of the UV light. I slowly felt my eyebrows burning more and more. As if I voluntarily had put myself in an oven, with a room full of men watching me spin around on the glass plate. My full body was against this process, but I told myself I had to trust the process. I felt ancestral guilt and shame, the religious order of the Catholic Church watching me cry and liking it. I wish I could go back and destroy it. Minutes pass by and stress creeps in. I felt stuck in the elevator yet I had to open the door myself. The screen was so close to my eyes. “Don’t sit too close to the TV” I hear in my head. This was not a panic attack, nor was it a psychosis. It was a mixture of confining to old rules, stepping into an old self-destructive pattern of shame and a quick 16 minute holiday if I focussed well enough. I counted the seconds, the minutes. This can’t be 16 minutes. I must have been fried by now – I could tell as my eyebrows were now hurting from the open wound in combination with the very salty sweat, that poured down my skin from this artificial sunlight. I opened the screen. Followed the rules: scrub, refresh, aftersun. I put on my clothes, still drenched from the rain. Clinging to my body, as if they missed me deeply for those 16 minutes. Put on my coat and glanced at myself quickly in the mirror. My reflection was mad at me, but also enjoyed the shame I put myself through and the old patterns that crept in along with it. My eyebrows were completely burnt. Like 2 big scars. Covered with salt, sweat and tears. I really wanted to cry, go home and sleep. Wash away everything. I opened the door, rushed out, my heart was racing and screaming. “Hope you had a lovely time inside!” the lady called after me. I looked back, cracked a smile and rushed out. I cried.
Benjamin, Walter, and Rolf Tiedemann. The Arcades Project. Cambridge, MA: Belknap,
Cauter, Lieven de. De Dwerg in De Schaakautomaat: Benjamins Verborgen Leer.
Nijmegen: SUN, 1999.
Buck-Morss, Susan. The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project.
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1989.
Buci-Glucksmann, Christine. “Catastrophic Utopia: The Feminine as Allegory of the
Modern.” Representations 14.1 (1986): 220-29.
A poem based on the end of the world and a dead scary YouTube video. What would she look like if she were to explode, this giant ball of plasma? She’s only meant to last for another 5 billion years. What would happen then? The supernova would cause the side of the earth facing the sun to boil away instantly. On the other side, we would get a rise in temperature that is fifteen times hotter than the surface of the sun. It will be forever dark. Also, the entire earth would slowly float away while the people who are still on earth will struggle to survive. Even if we’d prepare for the sun to explode, we could only save ourselves for about 1000 years. That’s if we’d move one floor down. A few meters below our surface, the earth has a temperature of 17°C. We’d need to live in bunkers to survive. Yet the more time passes, the colder it will be on earth. One week after the supernova, the earth’s temperature would be -18°. After 1000 years, the earth will completely freeze. Oceans would freeze, sand, roads everything. So do we want the sun to die sooner? The Sun will get hotter and brighter, and it will start to expand, while losing its outer layers to the cosmos, leading to the creation of other stars and planets in the same way that the violent burst of the Big Bang created Earth. One day the sun will expand and shrink.
Sunset dinner explores how deep, saturated love is naturally intertwined with self-destruction. It’s unpredictable like the weather, the sun. Yet pure love feels like a comforting blanket, covering you in a sense of home and safety. Love is saturated with flavour, and infused with shame and pain. Growing up, the writer went to a catholic school for 11 years and still carries that intense sense of religion deep inside. Not the romantic part, if there even is any, but the part of pain and shame. Hating religion, punishment and pain, yet not being able to let go of it either. It’s easy to blame religion for torture, the sun for being too bright. Your partner or loved one for being too something. It’s easier dealing with the acknowledgement of the sun being always there, pain being always there and something like torture always being there, no matter how deep. Exploring love connected to enjoyment, taste, bread and butter, yet connecting it to a deep fleshy, bloody texture of a tenderloin steak. It’s shameful, it’s painful and it’s a delight.