IN PRAISE OF STAGY LADIES
words: miss amp
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From her we can learn to appreciate the arts of our sex. While most girls are accepting of their femaleness, taking little or no pleasure in it, and always deriding the shape of their bodies, whatever that shape may be, to the stagy lady it is a source of mystery and delight.

She has the same relation to femaleness as a transvestite, constantly marvelling at the glorious white décolletage that spills from her Byzantine evening gown, or the bottom that tantalisingly lifts her skirts an inch at the back. If she zings straight up and down, uninterrupted by curves, that becomes the cause of wonder, and she will seek out flapper dresses and futurist manifestoes, and become a living embodiment of speed and movement.

To the stagy lady, the female body is her canvas, clothes her pigment. She sees her breasts and bottom and hips and thighs as a screen onto which she can project all the colour and poetry in her soul, spinning femininity around her like a tantalising veil, trapping the hearts of men in its spidery mesh.







And she is no self-denying ascetic. She is always attractively, avariciously, acquisitively hungry. She wants more and she wants it now: more lives, more experience, more personae. She finds it impossible to believe that people can restrict themselves to one colour, one style, one decade – even one century’s dressing. She dare not, for inside her – beating against the contours of her skull – are a Spanish dancer, a dominatrix, a Forces heroine, an Argentinean slum-dweller, a courtesan, a warrior princess, a Rococo maiden, an elegant old lady in a Miss Marple hat… and she fears for her sanity should they be denied expression.

Consequently, she cannot be held accountable to one identity. Without realising, she resists the stereotypes and defies the pigeonholing that would categorise women as mothers or whores, as menopausal witches or innocent virgins, as ‘fit’ or ‘dogs’. As her friend, you will see that her art of dressing can be a litmus test for the integrity of the women around you. Men may gaze, slack-jawed, but the tradition among females of noticing and admiring each other’s clothes makes an insult of silence. Although it seems that the stagy lady tells us all with her attire, in fact she tells us nothing, for she can be another person the next day.

We, however, are tricked into showing our true natures.
Her costumes demand a response: the Asiatic-Russian opera dress, or the Victorian corset, or the roses in her hair, the eyelids painted a nacreous green – all are a statement so provocative that failure to pass comment is ruder than ridicule. Instead, silence rebounds onto the viewer, revealing a mind incapable of embracing the unusual, or one too riddled with rivalry to take the beauty of another as a tribute, not a threat.


 

 

Yet I suspect it is more pleasurable to praise and admire the stagy ladies than it is to actually be one. I regard the stagy ladies as different to my other friends because I relate to them differently. I’m always aware of the attraction hanging in the air between us, a gaze that flows from me to her, and she submits to it because she finds her fulfilment in being an admired object. (This can work with men as well, but male dandies are rarer than females; indeed, I’ve only met one so far - but the dynamic is just the same.)

My best-dressed stagy lady, the most imaginative and beautiful and beguiling, the one from whom I hid for weeks since I couldn’t believe a creature as marvellous as she would want to be my friend, is never happier than when she is told she is beautiful. Her glittering smile widens even further, crinkling her whole face until the smile – the reddened lips and the pointy teeth and the stud, which pokes up, shiny and enticing, through her tongue, like a cherry on a cake – is all that is left. Admiration is the pinnacle of her achievement: she can want nothing more.

Or rather, she does not know what more to want. Feminism has shown the role of Muse to be empty and unfulfilling, though this is the energy that fires the stagy lady; she is and should be Icon, but icons are ideas, not people. She looks most alluring in two dimensions, on paper or canvas or screen, yet must live and breathe in three. The fulfilment she finds in admiration is fleeting; it is half-grasped, yet runs through her fingers and leaves no stain. When she is at home, alone, it disappears. Her need is a crystal glass that must be constantly refilled, and can never overflow.



Isadora Duncan


 


One stagy friend speaks of a desire to be old. At 30, she believes, she will be 'old' and thus free of the face and the grace that trap her in the gaze of others, and keep her lucratively yet frustratingly employed as a film extra and dancer: at 30, she believes, she will be deprived of the admiring glances and awed attention that she craves and cannot live without and constantly charms from others. At 30, she believes, she will lose her dependence on her sugary drug. She is dreaming. At 30, she will be beautiful; at 40, beautiful; she will be beautiful at 50.

To truly and finally fulfil the hunger at the heart of the stagy lady, she must lose that she, and I, most value. She must case aside the flowing cloaks and the dresses whose hems sweep the street; she must wipe her feet on the poems and love-letters that fall through her letterbox like junkmail; turn her naked face to the sun and let its cruel radiance erase her own. The stagy lady has been worshipped and admired and adored for the shell, and so has invested in it, adorning it, caressing it to sheeny smoothness, tracing its curlicues and tiny undulations; but all the while the kernel inside splits apart, hardens, and withers.

This is why my love of stagy ladies is a guilty, furtive pleasure, akin to breathing attar of roses till my nostrils tingle and smart: because the hunger of the stagy lady is the hunger of woman writ large, and all the praise in the world won’t make it better.

 

 

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