Last night I sat down in the middle of my bed, surrounded by two weeks worth of postal mail that I had finally collected from the aluminum box at the other end of the parking lot where I live. I had about four catalogs in the mix that I decided to take the time to look at, and only because I’ve been frustrated with the choices in my drawers and closet lately. I did what I always do: flip through fast, don’t study everything, gawk at how skinny some of these girls look to me now, glance at prices and scoff… and marvel at how things are changing and pat myself on the back for not being trendy and wasting my money on fashion. Then I imagine how I’d feel in a certain shirt or pair of pants, and then call myself out for being ridiculous — clothes haven’t been the setting for a situation for me since I was in high school.

While quietly flipping pages, I experienced the normal anticlimactic and aloof feelings I always do. It’s just shit to buy. And then I saw a single photograph that reminded me of what catalog and magazine perusing used to mean to me. The photo itself is irrelevant, yet it caused some sort of de ja vu. At a time in my life, the environment created by a teen magazine was my door into another self — a fantasy land of fragrance and texture that meant I was liked by many. When I was a kid I wanted to be a model. Although certainly not an original desire, I’d dreamed hard and long about being the girl in the photograph. Yet my imaginations, just like the images I was looking at, never included photographers or paychecks. Never the directions to the shoot. None of the nuts and bolts of reality.

I simply wanted to be the girl I was looking at. I thought that’s what modeling was–being small enough for the swimsuit, skin clear enough for the lights or sunlight to illuminate the surface of my face without the shadow of blemishes. It was havingĀ  hair clean and light enough to blow across my face or snake playfully in the wind as I looked forward in trance. I believed that the girls and women I was looking at looked the way they did because they knew how to dress. I never imagined the rack of garments in various sizes chosen for me that would have been rolled somewhere onto the set. Nor did I imagine any sort of director or someone planning the event. And I certainly didn’t imagine any sort of higher power connected toward marketing a brand or an image. No way, no how. The girl in the photograph was the center of the universe, and from her smile radiated truth. That’s all I wanted to know.

The photographic shrines we create as girls are unironic. Those collections of pages torn from catalogs and placed in notebooks, inside locker doors, or taped to our mirrors become our first practices on our quest for identity. But they don’t represent obsession. They’re the ritual we partake in on our quest to resonate with truth and perfection outside ourselves. At which point I completely abandoned this religion of the growing ego, I’ll never know. But I’d forgotten how big it was.

Tonight, all four catalogs are in the trash already, in bags prepared to be run to the dumpster on my way to work in the morning. And tonight, my religion is something different, although similarly ritualistic. I evaluate the day. Did I measure up? Get enough done? What did I mess up? Am I alright for thirty? Is my boss happy with my work? Do I have my shit together? And whether the interrogation is daily or nightly conscious, it hums in low tones inside me like a chant that accompanies me on my day or like a tattoo on the inside of my wrist. The religion, strange. The ritual, simply honest.