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new you and old me

I am reading a novel called A New You, about a young woman artist who has obtained a grant to stay inside a cube continuously for a year, painting, doing whatever art she wants. The lights are always on, and her movements are always on camera, visible from the web, except for within a smaller cube inside. The smaller cube has her little refrigerator and bath and laptop and "soft place", where she sleeps.

The young woman is able to go online to watch her own activities so she regularly rewinds to look at herself. The first time she looks at herself she thinks she looks too fat. She starts to notice other things about her and she becomes obsessed with how she looks. After she emails a male artist whose work and personal look interest her, she develops an infatuation with him and her obsession with her looks intensifies because she is always thinking about how she looks to him.

The story is set in what seems like a little bit outside the present day. A little in the future but possibly simply an alternative now, given some of the memories and products she uses. The artist has an arrangement with her sponsor that she can order anything she wants, and she does. She investigates and buys makeup, acne creams and treatments, hair dyes and treatments, clothing, jewelry. She begins to order services that are performed by robots who come into her cube, and these treatments tend to get more and more bizarre. Of course, the more she does to herself the more damage she is actually causing to her body.

To say it's like watching a train wreck really understates the case. I can't stop reading yet I want more than anything to be done with it. A more disturbing aspect of reading this account is that I see some things about myself in it. Not the obsessing with looks but what I do from day to day, how I think, what I think is important, how I manage my days. It all borders on its own version of the absurd.



Judith Lautner
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January 2012


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