When my kids were little, the floor of our playroom used to look like something out of a terrible mass homicide. Beheaded Barbie dolls lay in great naked heaps on the carpet, heads scattered, arms and legs akimbo. It might have seemed disturbing if I didn’t see the same gruesome scenes at all my friends’ houses too. Besides, there’s something innately satisfying about the thwomp of Barbie head popping out of her neck socket. And, as a feminist and child of the 1960’s, shouldn’t I have been applauding my children from attacking the Playboy bunny mentality of our permanently high-heeled friend?
It occurs to me that the book industry’s art directors are playing the same game. Look at almost any representative of woman’s literature these days and you’ll see the female body beheaded and hacked into discrete parts. Sometimes the heads are hacked off at the neckline, sometimes lower. Sometimes, as with Alex Witchel’s book, you just get the legs.
In fact, you always get at least the legs. And unlike my children, who always lost the Barbie doll shoes, the art directors never lose the shoes. Oh no. High-heeled shoes are a must for this particular art form.
I know it’s awfully Pixar of me, but I have to imagine that somewhere — maybe in all those art directors’ trash bins, or in some fifth dimension of Amazon.com — there’s a tangle of disembodied women’s heads, discarded arms and tossed-off torsos. Are they screaming soundlessly, or just chuckling because they’ve finally kicked off those legs and feet with their toe-pinching stilettos?
And what will the art historians of the future say about this particular epoch in the illustration of the female figure? I can see it on a timeline, or in a museum. Here’s your Madonna and child, here’s your Mona Lisa … and here’s “The Spare Wife” by Alex Witchel. You need a spare wife, apparently. At least for the body parts.