I'm Every Woman
“I'm every woman, Its all in me, Anything you want done, baby, I'll do it naturally” - Chaka Khan
“Left alone with big fat Fanny, She was such a naughty nanny, Hey big woman, you made a bad boy out of me --- Fat bottomed girls you make the rocking world go round” - Farrokh “Freddie Mercury” Bulsara
“Surely, you can't be serious.” Pickering huffs, standing in the studio's lobby, incensed that he slid out of sweatpants for this. What a bind a belt put his newly formed muffin top in.
“But I am!” Higgins replies, smiling at his old college roommate.
“Think about it, Pickering.” Higgins ushers him into a boardroom. “Imagine a song not as a single entity, but as a product made up of its component pieces. Writers craft the lyrics and melodies. Musicians play the instruments. The singer performs the song. The producer crafts the beats and then brings all the elements together. Each splits the profits of a song. Now of these, who is the most volatile? Who is most apt to explode at a moment's whim and jeopardize the chances at continued profit? Keep in mind a song makes the bulk of its money up front but can continue to bring in residuals for decades.”
“Well, the singer of course.” Pickering says as he plops down in a vibrating massage chair.
“Precisely! Why should the singer receive a third of all proceeds if she's liable to blow up and dam the entire revenue stream. She alone can hold the rest of the team hostage. A songwriter can be replaced, another producer can be brought in, but for a pop album, the singer remains integral. She is the face of the song and remains at the whims of public perception.
Higgins slides into the seat next to Pickering and sets his chair to shiatsu symphony.
“Higgins, I'm not following you.”
“Hear me out.” Higgins's voice shakes along with the chair. “Pop stars' bodies are already cobbled together. They are mirages of the highest order: nipped, tucked, weaved, glossed and photoshopped beyond recognition. Their voice is augmented with auto-tune and carefully edited, sometimes sewing together each word from thousands of attempts to make a composite with the best pieces of each take.” Higgins heaves a heavy sigh. “Gone are the days of the one take wonders. We're trapped in a world of the every word blunders.”
“Ok, true.” Pickering agrees. “But it's their personality that we cling to, that we wish to emulate. When we twirl around in the privacy of our rooms, its their lives that we dream of inhabiting.”
“And what of that persona? Is that them or is that a very well-focus grouped approximation of what we desire? Every once in a while, the veneer cracks and we can see the darkness beneath. Mariah Carey had a break down on live national television, pushing a popsicle cart pilfered from Times Square before stripping in front of the cheering Total Request Live audience. We didn't need to see the receipts of Whitney Houston's drug addiction, her autopsy proved it by showing her body covered in scars, missing eleven teeth and a hole in her nose. When Britney Spears first snapped, she shaved her head and attacked reporters with a beach umbrella. For fucks sake, Michael Jackson was a walking parable for a lost childhood and the resulting adjustment issues. While he was assuring us he was bad, really really bad, he was creating his personal amusement park. Do you remember what he named his collection of rides and zoo?”
Pickering shakes his head.
“Neverland. From Peter Pan, a boy who would never grow up. Now which is the real them? These broken humans we see when the veneer cracks or the well-scripted storylines of publicists?
“These parallel realities has been a trick since the birth of Hollywood. Think of Frances Ethel Gumm, renamed Judy Garland. She was force fed diet pills and cigarettes at 15 years old to keep her skinny, which led to crippling anxiety and a lifelong barbiturates addiction. But the studios worked hard to ensure we'd only see the star we wanted: a confident girl who made heart strings go zing zing zing and encouraged us all to get happy.
Pickering pauses, soaking up the significance of his words. “And what do you suggest we do? Make a pop star?”
“Exactly!” Higgins jumps up. “We can streamline the process and cut out the middlemen... errr... women. Humans are too fragile a technology to base a multi-billion dollar business on. If computers or gaming devices were as faulty, they'd be replaced immediately. If the voice is fake, if the persona is fake, if the face and body are fake, why even use a real human?” Higgins demands.
“Ha! Well, you know I'm always up for a challenge, but why did you choose me?” Pickering reclines into deep tissue euphoria.
“I heard about your dire straits and knew you had the unique set of skills to help me create a pop star. Think about it, money for nothing and chicks... or dicks, for free!” Higgins smiles.
“But isn't this a terrible gamble? Sure, the winner takes it all, but the loser has to fall. We could lose everything if we concocted a pop star, deceive the public and get caught. Let's not forget the public outcry when stars like Milli Vanilli, Ashlee Simpson and Lina Lamont were caught lip syncing!”
“Ha, you know its true.” Higgins paces around the room. “But think of it like spies, sure we've heard of Mata Hari, the World War I exotic dancer turned spy, because she got caught. But history never knew of Sonya Butt or Violet Szabo, because they got away with it! For every individual you mentioned, there are dozens who succeeded wildly with their musical deception. Remember the Pussycat Dolls? Nicole Scherzinger did 90% of the singing, the other members just flounced around on stage. With her beauty and talent, Nicole should've been far more famous. I assume people thought she was too Asian for mass appeal. And let's not forget Marni Nixon, the Ghost singer of Hollywood. It was her voice audiences heard as they watched Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Natalie Wood and Deborah Kerr sing in some of the most famous musicals.
“A gamble?” Higgins stops before Pickering's chair. “If we succeed, the only loser will be humanity. And if we fail, we can write off our losses and sell any of the technology we create. We'd probably end up with cushy mid-level executive positions with whichever company acquihires us.”
The thought travels through Pickering's mind, exploding with a thousand possibilities. He sees! In this moment Pickering has been converted. He has become the first acolyte of Higgins's vision, which will indeed end humanity.
“Genius Higgins! Let's not stop with the performer. Let's disrupt the whole production. Screw songwriters. Pop music lyrics are the worst. Beyond drivel. But oh, how they manipulate my emotions.”
“Pickering, now you're thinking! Ok, let's get to work.”
On a white board, Higgins scrawls a simple equation: “Flawless Face + Hot Body + Distinct Voice + Endearing Personality + Lyrics and Music = Profit.”
“Piece of cake! Now let's get to work, Pickering.”
* * *
Pickering plops in front of the computer terminal and gets to coding. He hacks the GBS PygmalionTM software system, which is used by sculptors to 3D-print intricate statues, and repurposes it to be build the perfect pop star.
For the face, he found the racial and ethnic makeup of all Americans under the age of twenty, their key demographic. He then culled millions of selfies of this age group from social media.
Social media was a vast wasteland where billions of humans posted trillions of photos and videos of themselves. In the last year of humanity, these photos and videos took up more than one hundred times the data storage space than the entirety of human scientific knowledge.
Humans are a social animal and, as such, are desperate for the approval of their peers. Each photo whined “hey look at me! Like me! Love me!” The photos were taken from an unrealistic perspective and then photoshopped to clear up any imperfections. Critics bemoaned this trend was the cause of narcissism, but instead it was just one of its many symptoms.
These augmented selfies paled in comparison with its progenitor, royal portraiture. Royals were a subset of humans who claimed to be gifted by Divine Providence to rule over others. Royals would commission official paintings of themselves that toured their kingdoms so all subjects could cower before their grandeur. Painters erased smallpox scars, added front teeth and hid the telltale signs of incest.
The technology of photography made this farce come to an end. Queen Victoria was the first royal to be sacrificed to the power of the lens. This Queen of the United Kingdom, Empress of India ruled a 50-inch waist and a 66-inch bust. She gorged herself on the fats of her empire while her policies exacerbated famines in India and Ireland, where 6.5 million of her subjects starved to death. Paintings of her showed a regal, slim-waisted woman. But her reign lasted into the age of photography. Her subjects demanded to see the image of the world's most powerful human. These photos of her were far less forgiving. Long before Adobe Photoshop allowed humans to airbrush away imperfections, Victoria started the trend of hiding one's heft, using decoys like a chair or a fan. She even succeeded briefly in making her weak chin a fashion trend. After suffering the incestuous beauty standard of the Hapsburg jaw with its protruding underbite, leaving some kings barely able to chew or speak, Europeans eagerly accepted a royal with a less severe mandible.
Pickering writes a program that combines millions of these idealized photos. On the right side of his interface, he creates a set of characteristics common among humans: eyes, ears, nose, mouth, hair and cheeks that he can tweak. As he adjusts these, Pickering joins billions of men taking part in the species' longest-running creation, womanhood. The only thing different was the technology he had at his disposal.
“Voila!” Pickering stretches his arms up. “Here she is.”
The holocube projects a 3D-image of a young woman's head.
Higgins scrunches his face.
“What the devil is this?”
“Here's our star. She's a perfect composite of the demo we're looking for. I crunched the numbers, 40% of girls in our age group are Latino, 15% black, 12% Asian and 33% white. She represents the harmony of these American girls.”
“But why's she so fat... And homely looking?”
“This face represents the mean girl out of millions. I synthesized the average of their face shapes and features: eyes, nose, ears, mouth. She looks so fetch, right?”
Higgins stares at the holocube and watches the smiling girl with a round face, big brown eyes and wavy black hair rotate before him.
“Would you fuck this?” Higgins demands.
“Of course you wouldn't. She's not supposed to be the average! She's supposed to be aspirational. Unattainable even! What every girl wants to be and who every guy wants to be with. Well, most guys”
“Ok, ok. Hm, how about this.”
Pickering types frantically, amending the parameters of his data import.
“Ok. Let me narrow the scope and cull faces from only the top 100 most followed teens on Instagram and Facebook.”
Pickering hits enter and his screen races through the thousands of lines of code. In seconds, the visages of 100 women are ripped off, melted together and the result is thrown up from the holocube.
“Now this! This is much better.” Higgins nods.
A perfectly symmetrical head with high cheek bones, a long face, an angular chin and big pouty lips bobs before them. The skin is a honey mahogany with chestnut brown hair cascading in loose curls.
“Beautiful,” Higgins says. “But still needs tweaking. What percentage black is she?”
“5%.” Pickering responds.
“Cut that out completely. Data from dating sites show that no one wants to date dark-skinned black women.”
Click, click, pound.
An entire race, erased.
“That's better! See, the nose is thinner and the hair is straighter. Now can we change the individual features?”
“Sure can, toggle away!” Pickering cedes the controls.
Higgins takes over and pulls sliders for each of the features.
“Nose needs to be thinner. Smaller too, I only wanna see two black dots underneath a button nose. Neck longer. Eyes more almond.”
“Oh, that's great! Serving some Nefertiti smolder.” Pickering approves.
“Now the smile. Hm... I need some Mona Lisa smirk, but fatter lips. Juicer! Like two banana slugs sucking each other off. Much better! Now push those cheek bones higher, like the precipice of a cliff. Dangerous but mesmerizing.”
Their pawn transforms before their eyes.
“What about skin tone?” Pickering asks.
“This is tricky. We want to create a tramp l'oeil, a color so illusory that each race can claim her. White girls will think she's tan. Black girls will think she's super light-skinned, like a Lena Horne or Halle Berry. Ok, let's try mixing 1995 Mariah Carey and 2015 Ariana Grande skin tones... Perfect!”
“And the hair?”
“A dirty blonde with cascading waves.” Higgins toggles.
“And the eyes?”
“Let's start with Siberian Husky blue.” Higgins clicks on this color.
“Nope. Too freaky!” Pickering flinches at the result.
“Yeah, the contrast is too harsh. Ok, let's go for hazel and the eyes can change to blue or green depending on the lighting and what's she's wearing.”
“Love it! But remember, we're not creating the world's most beautiful woman,” Pickering urges. “We're creating a branding machine. Sure, she's gotta be beautiful but not too unique. She's needs to be a clean palette. This way, we can secure sponsorship deals for cosmetics, hair products and clothes to accessorize her.”
“Genius! Alright, let's turn up the homely by 10%.” Higgins adjusts their creation. “Oh god, too much! Let's try 3%... Here we go. Still beautiful.”
Pickering skips to the white board and crosses off “Flawless Face.”
“Ready to tackle the body?”
“We're on a roll! Who knew it would be so easy to construct a woman?”
“Keep in mind that women's bodies fluctuate with time.” Pickering opens the body interface on his computer. “We can use this to our advantage and make sure she's on the upslope of each new body trend. Booties are on the rise so lets just---”
The holocube projects a body that combines the top 100 most followed women on Instagram.
“For booty, let's start with the physically impossible curves of the Hottentot Venus and scale it back by 15%.” Pickering commands the system to select drawings of this South African teenager who, in the early 1800s, was kidnapped by colonialists and paraded around, naked, in freak-shows throughout Europe so locals could gawk at her large black buttocks. The caricatures of her that circulated throughout the white people's continent grossly misrepresented her figure and create a fetishistic fascination with big black booties.
“Remember that this is just a starting point in a trajectory.” Pickering cautions.
“Right! Scale that booty back by 25%. Damn! Now that's one honky tonk badonkadonk. Ok, I want smooth hairless Asian skin, long Swedish legs and small Japanese feet.”
“And clavicles! Clavicles are in this season.” Pickering codes.
“Clavicles like a xylophone. With deep pockets.”
“Ooo!” Pickering exclaims. “I just thought of something. I can program the system to include plastic surgery analytics. Let's find out what are the most popular plastic surgeries and give our star the end results of these.”
Pickering edits the code for the body, plucking before and after photos from cosmetic surgeons' websites. Their holobody stretches and warps to match these post-op perfections. The face becomes more feminine, the hairline extends, the breasts even out and rise.
“And a flat stomach and giant tits.” Higgins demands.
“They can't be too big, we need her dancing.”
“Let's meet in the middle, C!” Higgins demands. “36C tits, 24-inch waist and 36-inch hips.”
“Hell, if we're going for aspirational, 18-inch waist.” Pickering shrinks the waist size. “And we didn't even need to break any ribs with a whalebone corset.”
“I feel like we've got to give her at least one flaw.” Higgins ponders. “Something that she can talk about in interviews, some reason she was bullied as a child.”
“Man shoulders?” Pickering offers. “Nail beds that suck? Weird hairline?”
“A single hairy mole, just above the right side of her lips.”
“Brilliant, Higgins! This way we can market a whole line of tweezers.”
Higgins and Pickering match the head to the body and watch their fabricated woman twirl like a doll on a music box before them.
“She's radiant!” Higgins sighs.
“And you know, Pickering, we've saved more than a hundred thousand dollars in plastic surgery.”
“Hell, more than that, a lifetime of makeup artists, hairstylists, nutritionists, trainers and body coaches.”
Pickering crosses “Hot Body” out on the white board.
“Now, Pickering, what shall we call her?”
“Hm, something youthful, but distinguished. How about Cyndi... Cyndi Mayweather!” Pickering writes this name on the board with a flourish.
“I can dig it. Mayweather gives off an aristocratic flair. We can invent some great-great-grandpappy who sang on the Mayflower and gave smallpox blankets to the Natives. And a great-grandma who owned thousands of slaves. You know, Real Americans! And Cyndi sounds like she could be Latina, could be white, could be Asian, could be black. And its got a hip vibe to it, like this girl just wants to have fun.”
Pickering types the name of their product and watches it appear beneath their construction.
“Mmm!” Higgins beams. “I can already smell money in the bank. We've still got a lot of work ahead of us, but we've made some great progress. I've gotta bounce. So save the program. And if you could close up shop.”
Pickering nods as he buries his attention into his holophone. During that meeting alone, he received eight photos of male appendages dangling in all stages of turgidity. He looks up as he hears the door slams shut behind Higgins.
“Alexis, connect my phone to the 'cube. Bring up dick pics 2, 4 and 7. Ok, can you cross-reference them against each other. Find any object in the pics' backgrounds and use this for scale.”
Alexis obeys his orders and the 'cube projects the 3D dongs. A coke can is found in the 2nd photo and the 'cube pulls out the can and the cock. Alexis determines perspective based on depth. The 'cube displays a graph with inches running along the y-axis and the three dongs sprouting on the x-axis.
“Very nice! Alexis message profiles 2 and 7, send them my dick pics 1, 4 and 5, and hole pics 12 and 47, and smiling photo 7. Oh! And a message. Message is 'Nice! How's it going?'”
“Photos sent.” Alexa responds. “Message: 'Nice! How's it growing?' Do you wish to send this message?”
“That'll do Alexis, that'll do nicely.”
* * *
Higgins is halfway down the hall when he completes his AirBDSM reservation for that afternoon. Finally, home sex dungeons had entered the sharing economy. Why create a dungeon of your own when you could rent one by the hour.
“What a time to be alive!” Higgins thinks.
When the service launched, he spent hours studying the myriad of amenities available: trapeze swings, slings, whips, chains, mazes and waterboarding supplies. Of course, cleaning fees were triple other home-sharing services. At first, the smell of bleach and the slippery texture of tarps beneath his toes nauseated him. But he's grown accustomed to it. More than that, these sensations now cause Pavlovian responses in his loins and salivary glands.
Higgins whistles to himself throughout the twenty minute drive. A thick brown haze billows over the hills marking day forty three of forest fires in his parched part of California.
The dungeon is quaint. The owner had turned on the air purifiers and had added a few well-placed pine-scented deodorizers. Higgins's favorite pleasure tool, Mrs. Helga Pearce, dressed as a librarian school marm, is already waiting for him. He had selected her for her rotund build and large, ample thighs. She gives him the James Joyce special. Joyce was a human revered as one of the species's most important writers. Sadly, most humans had never read his greatest literary works, his raunchy love letters to his mistress.
But Helga had!
She pins his head with her buttocks and flatulates all over his face. Beneath her quivering anal opening, he smiles.
“Oh, what ecstasy,” his oxygen-deprived brain spins.
Mrs. Pearce berates and wallops him.
“You dirty little fuckbird!
Through her layers of blubber, he bellows.
“Yes Mommy, I've been a very, very bad boy.”