Two days after shaving my head down to the skin with the help of my roommate and a BIC razor, I fell asleep on our couch while watching cable TV. I woke up to a VH1 report that Britney Spears had undergone some kind of breakdown and shaved hers, too.

My bare scalp was an attempt to stave off another breakdown, part of a radical attempt at recovery from an eating disorder in which I decided I would shave my head and wear only white T-shirts and black chinos, like a uniform. I was trying to prove that looks didn't matter, that I could transcend the corporeal female form and find my truest self. Since high school, I'd cycled in and out of my illness. I recovered, I relapsed, I recovered, all the while dying my hair blonde, growing it long, experimenting with the ways society changed their treatment of me according to my looks.

When it happened to Britney too, I hated it. I didn't want to be associated with or have people think I was copying a pop star with her image. I think I was trying to reject some sense that my act was driven by a kind of bimbo mindlessness. But as I grew older, I realized the way people treated Britney existed on a spectrum of misogyny I had also faced: the underestimation of my intellect, the vicious denial of my needs. That the only good girl is the cool, rational girl, the girl who isn't "crazy." Maybe I was running from recognizing a similar kind of pain.

I didn't know then how much control and coercion Britney'd had to contend with. Now, when I see photos of her taken during her conservatorship, I can't help but see the deepest despair in her eyes even when she is smiling. Maybe I'm projecting, but it is as though the complete loss of her autonomy over every aspect of her life, including her physical form, was an attempt to lithify something special inside of her. Yet that despair in her eyes couldn't be hidden. The look is strained, one of trying her best to resist in order to survive, to remain herself.


Growing up, my father had strict rules about my appearance. I was not allowed to wear makeup until I turned sixteen. He fervently hammered intellectual pursuit into my life: if grades slipped below a B average, I was grounded. If grounded, I was made to read and write reports on texts like James Allen's As a Man Thinketh and Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet; I could not pierce my ears and from as young as six I remember knowing that I was not allowed to cut my hair short. I didn't grow up in a strictly religious household, but my father's rigid adherence to traditional notions of the way women should perform femininity physically was based in the archetype of the good girl who is seen and not heard, whose mind should be sharp but whose form should be quiet. From As a Man Thinketh: "A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts."1

I remember spending those years feeling so alienated. In high school, girls my age had already been experimenting with their style and make-up for years. It felt like they had the tools to gain social and romantic power, whereas I received only Henry Ford's supposed maxim that "whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right," reminding me that my that my mental aptitude would determine my entire future. Other girls were either popular in school or popular in their alternative cliques cool girls who had facial piercings, wore black eyeliner, dyed and styled their hair. When I finally could, I went full-tilt, dying my hair turquoise or black, cutting it short into a Chelsea, wearing thick eyeliner, black lipstick, death-pallor foundation. Emo began coming up and the trends moved away from baggy JNCOs to skinny jeans. In the more poppy circles it was wide-flared bell-bottoms. The teen image was fetishized with baby tees and tight trousers.

This was what I wanted! To be sexy, to be wanted by boys, to look like the girls I wanted to date. Sixteen-year-old me, new to all of this, felt too goth for the preppy crowd, yet somehow too preppy for the goth crowd. There were a couple of devastating sophomore and junior year crushes gone wrong; one particular boy led me on then rejected my advances. It was stupid of me to like him, at least he said as much, insulting me when I tried to intellectualize my feelings for him through poetry or whatever else. The more of myself I shared and the more I "clung" rather, the more I expressed a need for his affection the more he called me stupid and belittled me for seeking his attention.

Between being punished for a lack of intellectual foresight at home and these devastating rejections, something in me turned: it was clear to me that I wasn't smart and so had to be valued for being sexy. But it was also clear to me that I couldn't be sexy because I didn't have the tools. This left one option for me: I would be sick. My father's words about how a girl should be insidiously became my own rebellion. My sickness, then, was borne out of a desire to reclaim control of my autonomy and find some pathway toward self-direction and self-expression. It began the way any religious notion of devotion might: through flagellation of the self. I developed an eating disorder, which deepened once I discovered Rumi and began reading Buddhist essays on resisting attachment to the material world. Seeking equanimity this way temporarily alleviated my existential strife, but of course, using starvation as a philosophy of living was just a coping mechanism, not a long-term solution or at least not one that would render my life very long.

During the worst years of my first bouts of anorexia and bulimia, around 2005-2006, I remember devouring The Simple Life, starring Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton. I was first drawn to it by Nicole and her tabloid exploits: during the first season she had been labeled "the fat one" but the breathless coverage of her thinness that followed later made her more thinspiring than the Olsen twins. What I loved about her, and Paris, was that from the outside it looked like they got to enjoy their thinness, that through their aesthetics they possessed a kind of mental and emotional freedom by way of total control of the body. In contrast, my thinness felt attained through torture: even when the fleeting moment of enjoying my body came to me, it left as soon as I became too hungry to fight my desires.

The key here is what they represented rather than what they were: self-made women, a self-made body as the site of identity construction. At the time, their enduring perseverance against tabloid crusades made it seem like their bodies and this mindless image constituted a kind of liberation. That's me being naive, but it's also how religion works: we perceive Christ as perfect because of what religion tells us about him we weren't there in his (alleged) mind, sitting with his suffering. We can idealize Siddhartha Gautama for his struggles, too, because we aren't singularly experiencing all of the times he failed. All I knew about Paris back then was that she had built an empire using this constructed image that didn't need to explain itself intellectually. "Let them think I'm stupid" is what I see in her face in that iconic photo in the car with Britney and LiLo. I thought there might be a kind of power in leaning into the way society underestimates you based on how you look. But then, somehow, along the way, that changed, too, a change indexed most obviously in my reaction a year later to Britney's head-shaving breakdown. Not even I, who at one time idolized these women, was aware of how I judged them or how deeply I had internalized the relentless criticism of how women should behave.


I grew into my twenties still blindly seeking consolation. I joined an organized religion and left it. I began a meditation practice, dropped it, picked it up again. I grew my hair long and kept it naturally red because my then-husband loved it so much. I wanted to be wanted because to be wanted means you belong somewhere. I gave myself to being a wife, to being a stay-at-home mother, thinking naively that this simplicity would free me. Sometime after becoming a mother, I began to engage with my desire for beauty in a different way. The old coping mechanisms were not available to me anymore if I wanted to be ethical in my mothering: you cannot, under any circumstances, pass on your habits of self-harm to your daughter. This would be the biggest disgrace, worse than any sin. Imagine my horror when, at six, my daughter walked into my office talking to me about her day and casually told me, "Did you know that you can eat things and spit them out, so it's not like really eating them?" I will tell you now how hard I thought I had worked never to expose my daughter to my own past complications with food, never to comment on my body negatively in front of her, had tried so hard to be conscientious about this, thinking of my own upbringing with my dad. Yet what I forgot was how deeply the body is also affected by culture, social circles, media consumption I thought I'd have at least four-to-six more years before I had to worry about the effects of media pressure on my child. I calmly asked her where or how she heard about what she described, I wanted to know if it was from friends or from somewhere else, like maybe something on YouTube I hadn't caught. I must have been unable to hide what I felt in that moment, because she suddenly seemed to know this wasn't information she was supposed to have, and wouldn't tell me.

I'm completely comfortable with the idea of my daughter having her own private world, it's healthy and normal, but in that moment I suddenly felt torn from her I didn't want her private world to include pains I knew so distinctly, though I should have known better than this, because I too have a mother. For example, I was wrong in thinking that being a tradwife would save me, somehow, from the existential trials of the expectations of others whether in the family unit, in my relationship, or in society. The inevitability of suffering kept coming: that's the first noble truth in Buddhism. Some pains persisted through the first years of marriage and motherhood: I didn't want to think about having a body anymore, or about how that body could serve the needs of others, though I also didn't want to deal with the way its differences bumped up against others' gazes, or think about being ugly. Something in me wanted to lean into a different kind of power and I thought, yet again, that if I could self-make, it would give me an existence in which I could escape the ingrained narrative from my childhood and I would no longer need to justify or constantly explain who I was. Through marriage, feminine performance became more routine. Like a set of railroad tracks, it made itself available to me and I let myself be swept along. Though I was used to subjecting my body to pain in order to sublimate my anxieties, I now had to do it in a more socially acceptable way - a way that was less repellant, less of a reminder of one's mortal being and our dance towards death. If attempts at attaining emaciation was the embodiment of pain in order to repel society away from the body, then I thought beautifying the body through bimbofication, by serving the gaze of others, could do the opposite.

The process itself was a practice in meditation, like I was engaging spiritually with the body. For starters, the Botox needles demand your stillness. Radio frequency micro-needling and lip injections demand acceptance of pain. Cheek filler asks you to sit with the uncomfortable knowledge of the needle passing through seven layers of skin. You feel its point directly touching the zygomatic bone of your skull and must observe with the most acute awareness whether the pain you feel is bad pain a nerve being hit or benign pain, which is the feeling of your skin separating from bone as the filler is placed between them. The chemical peels are weeklong rituals that force you to control the animal impulse to scratch the dead skin off your face.

The boob job resolutely requires you to trust the process and practice a deep level of patience. It takes at least six months, but more realistically a year, before you see final results. I had never gone under the knife before my breast augmentation, and had only once before been given twilight anesthesia to remove my wisdom teeth in 2007. The immediate feeling of waking up after surgery was stranger than dreaming: because of the amnesiotics, parts of your psyche seem to operate without you actively being aware you are there. I woke in the car after my wisdom teeth removal, my mother driving me home, while I cried with a mouth full of cotton about not wanting people to think I looked like Britney Spears. I was not dealing well with my recovery and tired of being seen as "crazy." The shame I have for my post-surgery crying fit is rooted in that lack of composure and self-awareness, for sure. It shocks me now, as a mother, how I lacked the empathy for what Britney was experiencing back then. She had had two children within the span of a year and by 2007 they were both still toddlers. But I am also sad for my younger self, who in her initial attempts to find acceptance still put so much on being seen rather than heard.

For my breast augmentation, however, waking up was serene, like the deepest rest I'd ever had. I came to with my chest bundled up tight and was sent home with instructions to practice taking deeper breaths to fend off pneumonia. By the third day I took off the bandages to examine what the online breast augmentation community affectionately called "Frankenboob," that is, when you are bruised all over and the implants are high and square-shaped in your chest. They take months to "drop and fluff," another common phrase that people in the community use to encourage each other through the months of healing and letting the body settle. There are forum pages upon forum pages of post-surgery patients in varying forms of existential crisis about the process some regretting it deeply, some anxious that they won't get the results they dreamed of. Those on the other side act as spiritual mentors: trust the process; develop patience; find ways to take care of yourself while you wait this out; speak to your surgeon if things become worrying.

It is specifically this process for me that I enjoyed, cataloging the bruises and watching them fade day by day. A hematoma developed on my left side, so I went back to my surgeon and was blood-let through the incision like it was an ancient spiritual rite.


In my 2023 interview with poet and screenwriter Erin Taylor, for their book Bimboland, I discussed the idea that bimbofication is a serenity process. This is, in part, because it demands an emptying of the mind. Being a bimbo holds the promise of being a woman who doesn't have to be burdened with the mental load of our relationships, our families, our communities for me, the bimbo was a woman who didn't have to write book reports about her own self-determination and examine her existential dread with a fine-tooth comb. Girls, queer people, and everyone else who doesn't conform to the basic needs of this society's power structures are raised to be eternally accommodating to the needs of others. But do it too much and you betray either your self or your sisters. What the girl needs is never taken into consideration. She must always hold the needs of her mother and father, who become emblematic of the needs of others in their grown lives, above her own. This is what I would classify as our existential despair: rather than "Who are we?" women and queer people are raised to ask "Who are we allowed to be?" In the interview, Taylor said:

"When I look back on how I was taught to approach my own sense of self, it was with this idea of womanhood forced upon me by my family, by society to be this happy smiley dumb girl who is faceable, nice, and isn't putting up a fight. .... But I was also being told, being a bimbo is the worst possible woman you could be by other women, that if you are doing that, then you're almost betraying other women. ... We grew up in the 2000s when we had so many examples of amazing bimbos in our culture. Anna Nicole Smith, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton people that were really being shamed left and right by everyone in the media and people in our regular lives."2 (Nash 2023, par 17)

Paris, Nicole, Linsday, Britney, the Kardashians are all symbols of the eradication of existential despair which, ironically, makes them compelling archetypes for its existence. They represent, as an idea, women who don't seem to need to fulfill the needs of anyone but themselves. For example, in his novel If I Close My Eyes, Ben Fama opens with the main character, Jesse, present at a Kim Kardashian signing: "Jesse fell easily for the allure of this type of celebrity: the reality TV star who didn't need to fully articulate herself."3 This is the crux: they don't need to. They don't appear to need to work or strategize or concern themselves with much else other than being appealing. They need only concentrate on making themselves into a thing to be gazed upon and pondered and argued about.

This makes the bimbo an interesting symbol of potential equanimity, or at least of mental liberation. The deeper levels of her suffering aren't seen, because she is superficial. She is loved and reviled with the same vitriol, so there is no point in her answering to others about her womanhood or her intellect. And on top of it all, through her human desire for attention, she does something critical in Buddhist practice: she accepts her yearning, even welcomes it. She accepts that these desires exist. Desire, in Buddhism, is the root of suffering. But through acceptance, rather than suppression, it's possible she takes one step toward the process of lessening her suffering. At its root, the bimbo is a site of spiritual potential because she represents an attainment of autonomy accompanied by an alleviation of existential pain. But, like most religious icons, she is only a representation of that attainment. She is still in service to the desire of others that's how she gains the attention she wants. And while that may lessen suffering momentarily, it opens avenues for new suffering through the rigorous maintenance of her own iconography.

It has been four years since my breast augmentation, so I have sixteen years left before they have to be replaced. I get Botox every three months when I can afford it and in the past twelve months I have gotten filler either in my lips or cheeks at least three times, though it never seems to last. New insecurities emerge as old ones get released: I go through phases of emailing every plastic surgery clinic in my city for client photos of lip lifts my next desire and when the receptionists phone me to set up in-office consultations, I ignore the calls for days. I take a selfie and send it to someone, but I use facial smoothing features in a beauty app to lessen the dysphoria that comes from looking at myself in high definition. The recipient knows what I look like in real life, so I have nothing to hide, yet I still do. In the photo I notice my fingers look there is just no other word old. They look like fingers that belong on Evelyn, my great grandmother, who died when she was ninety-six. I am reminded of her delicate and gentle hands blindly seeking buttons on those children's books where you press the picture for the sound, which my grandmother had given her, just so Evelyn could use her body in a way that reminded her there was something in the world she could still control.

Signs of aging can be slowed but we all succumb to it in the end. In 2021, Paris hosted a cooking show and the internet spent days questioning why she was wearing fingerless gloves. She's sliving, she said, and a slew of other celebrities, including Khloe Kardashian, began wearing fingerless gloves shortly. Media outlets theorized that aging hands were the reason for the gloves (Paris's hands have been criticized as far back as 2011 for being "sinewy"). Twitter was rife with close-up shots of these women's fingers in the gloves, examining them from every angle, and comments on how nasty they looked. To think that women exist in a world where even our fingers are described as dried up and old feels like an impossible knot, a puzzle we are never meant to solve.

It seems an obvious question here, in trading the pursuit of extreme thinness for hyperfemininity: why did I run into the fire over and over again when trying to recover, and why have I run into a new fire? I think about mindlessness a lot it is always on my mind because in addition to my father's book reports forcing me to take responsibility for every thought I had, the brain disorders that live under the umbrella of dementia run in my family. My grandmother described my great grandmother as speaking to people who weren't there and, once my grandmother died, my mum spoke of my grandfather's fear of being alone in the house, of forgetting who was there with him, of being afraid of his son because he could no longer trust his own mind. The wild look of loss and fear in the dementia sufferer's eyes when they slip into that space of not knowing where they are, who they are with, or if they can trust you is harrowing. There's a lot to fear about mindlessness, not least losing the ability to make one's self or make something of one's self. Without memory, without mind, would I simply become like the version of me that wakes from surgery, frantic about her unspoken fears? Or would embracing this mindlessness truly free me from that forever demand to articulate and justify one's existence? With a loved one who has dementia, you cannot get angry with them, you cannot argue, you cannot convince or demand they explain themselves. The ethics of mindlessness require you to show up, create safety, be gentle. Mindlessness in dementia is harrowing because the loss is there; mindlessness in bimbofication confers the benefits without the loss, because the mind is still burning away in the body.

If the bimbo projects mindlessness, she protects that most treasured part of her body, which is the brain. The brain hides in plain sight. It is freedom from not just surveillance but what's the other word, the word that means one "surveils but also examines with bias"? Scrutiny. That, I think, is what bimboism is seeking. Why must I defend everything about my material presence, even my dried up, anxiety-picked, flaky-and-bitten-nail-nubbed wrinkly digits? If I wrap myself in silicone and Botox and hyaluronic acid to perform the perfect version of femininity, do I reduce the friction with which I slide through the world? It is simply no wonder that Britney rejected all of this and shaved her head. We speak of her as if she was in crisis, but what if we took her rejection of the bimbo form with respect and sincerity? She just wanted, like most of us, to be a person, to stop feeling isolated and alienated by and because of her material form.

Embracing the assertion of control, sadly, still doesn't bring freedom: any interface with public life pulls you down into scrutiny no matter what you do. Taylor Swift, for example, archetyped not as a bimbo but as the girl-next-door, notoriously can't serve, let alone slay. Lana Del Rey, the sad girl's heroine anti-bimbo, can't express the darker aspects of the female experience without being seen as glorifying abuse, violence, and suicide. A few female author friends who saw me as an intellectual fell away once I tweeted openly about my Botox; one even guardrailed me by checking to make sure I hadn't fallen into the pits of idiocy: "you mean for migraines, right?"

I may have misremembered the tone in which this friend reached out but the effect it had was real. I'm not going to keep these habits a secret, which is what society hates about them: plastic beauty is tricks, it's lies, this is what makes it "immoral." But in being honest about it you reveal within you a vapidity that betrays feminism. Which sin is worse?

Walking the line between autonomy and self-actualization sucks; there's no better way to say it. In getting implants I wanted to take a step away from my desire to shrink to actually, once and for all, accept my body as a feminine thing. Femininity appears to be a place I inhabit and keep coming back to somehow, even if I don't always feel connected to it. I didn't get breasts because I wanted people to comment on them, and I would dare say I did not even get them for attention, even if some attention can at times be uplifting. Also, though, I am attracted to women and the female form, and maybe there is something to me becoming more like what I am attracted to which is also a way of saying I am coming to a place of loving myself by using the tools that money and plastics can bring me. The first time I got my lips done, I sat in my car and spent an hour taking selfies, feeling more powerful than I ever had in my life. The sculpting of a skeleton takes persistence and patience and metabolism. Science is tricky, but injecting my lips was a bull's-eye shot: it created a change that was more satisfying than hitting a goal weight had ever been, because it was instantaneous. The feeling I had was so intoxicating that I immediately understood how people could get addicted to this. What they are addicted to is not the end result, the look, but the process itself, harnessing control over what feels uncontrollable once and for all. It is a similar feeling to sitting inside the nave of an Orthodox church (another religious practice I tried to find salvation in): the liturgy is immediately overwhelming. It takes over your chest. The body is fickle, it can be hard to conquer, but with enough money that road rolls out to you. I've always had a strained relationship to my body and to my feminine form. Plastic surgery somewhat changed that. Now it's a strained relationship with money. In this way, the spiritual struggle continues, controlled by public opinion, economics, and people in power. The unrelenting desire to remain oneself despite these pressures forever glides beneath the surface of my body, and the temptation of freedom seems to push me to seek this autonomy no matter how it is expressed whether through the rejection of my feminine body by starvation, or by embracing the same body wholesale to stake a chance in being loved.

Elle Nash is the author of the novels Gag Reflex (Clash Books, 2022) and Animals Eat Each Other (404 Ink), and the short story collection Nudes (404 Ink). 


  1. James Allen, As A Man Thinketh(New York: Project Gutenberg, 2003 [1902]), 5.[]
  2. Elle Nash, "Erin Taylor by Elle Nash: The Poet Discusses Agency, Self-exploitation, and What It's Like to Grow-up Working Class," BOMB Magazine, February 23, 2023.[]
  3. Ben Fama, If I Close My Eyes (Chicago: SARKA Publishing, 2023), 1.[]