I mean, I really loved Cat Marnell up until she had something to prove.
Back when she was writing about lip plumpers and false eyelashes on xoJane I idolized her like she was one of the rock stars I used to have taped to my bedroom ceiling. Staring up at David Bowie and Joan Jett before I went to sleep– people with a magic kind of charismatic authority and recherché beauty that allowed them a unique social mobility. Cat was an excellent role model for my post-high-school state of bewilderment because she had seemingly achieved success in her chosen field without forfeiting any facet of her individuality or lifestyle. Like many, I was fascinated by this intelligent, tragic, addicted party girl. She was troubled. She was cute. She was Adderall-ed up. She reminded me of me! And, as we’re all aware, there is NOTHING more interesting than oneself.
I guess she embodied, in some sense, what I was striving for at the time– mature work within an immature context and supplemented with the corporeality of an 11-year-old. Cat didn’t try to conceal her body issues, something I’ve always really admired in public figures. Her constant struggle towards emaciation was one I identified with, and her periodic clavicle flaunting inspired me. Because, duh, neoteny isn’t natural in humans like it is in axolotls, so malnourishment is necessary for a genuinely childlike veneer . Cat Marnell’s lifestyle seemed like an an appropriate objective– something between anorexia and academia, reveling in the structural discrepancy between being cerebral and being self-destructive.
In essence, a triumphant manifestation of Jung's puella archetype.
Archetypes are primordial images borne of the collective unconscious. They are universally recognizable but gain substance only when applied to empiric externalities; Subsequently, their semblance is dependent upon the culture and period in which they emerge. Culture’s impact on an archetype’s genesis is so critical that a spirit archetype originating in Japan would appear completely different from the same archetype manifested in Mexico. The timeless force of these archetypes is authenticated by their enduring presence– for example, the puer aeternus, Latin for “eternal boy,” an archetype with a power that is interminably corroborated by its recurrent evocation in modern society. The puer is familiar archetype, visible in the man children starring in every Judd Apatow movie and male-directed sitcom, but its female counterpart, the puella, has been less easily accepted. However, I believe our ever-more vibrant consumer culture has allowed for the puella aeterna to manifest more easily. The eternal girl is an archetype that has an acutely heightened distinction in modern life, and it seems palpable within the presence of one Cat Marnell.
Just like the puer, the puella is incredibly endearing in her childlike excitement and curiosity. Other people are drawn to her, and she feeds off their admiration and approval. She hates feeling restricted or controlled, especially by bureaucracy, and she constantly tests boundaries by incessantly breaking rules. The spirit and energy of the puella is extremely compelling, and she is adored by many. But in identifying as a girl stuck in a woman’s body, the puella is out of touch with her femininity and herself.
“The puella needs love and attention, yet she engages in deception of herself and other by putting on a performance and acting ‘as if’. she feels unloveable and experiences shame, vulnerability, and fear– all based on a conviction of not being good enough. The lack of basic trust and security leaves her chasing an ideal, through cosmetics, body reshaping, and other compulsive and negative thoughts and behaviors” (Susan Schwartz, Little Girl Lost, pp 206)
I mean, come on, Cat is a BEAUTY WRITER. It’s textbook. Her life, her source of income, is trying to fight off time’s inexorable dominion over her physical appearance. This futile endeavor is the process of sacrificing a positive self-image for immediate gratification in the form of external praise. A puella’s identity is rooted in girlhood, so her adult existence is centered around its preservation. However, this self-absorption is actually a defensive effort against self-reflection. The puella forces herself into a state of suspended animation, one Cat maintains by perenially popping prescription speed until she runs out, at which point she self-induces benzodiazepine paralysis. The point is basically that she never has to really look at herself. Introspection demands feeling, and that’s to be avoided.
My ex-boyfriend used to always get mad at me about that. He’d say I was constantly moving and doing things so I never had to think about how sad I really was. Like Cat, I would go to a party and then get drunk at the party and then pass out later and wake up and do something and then do something else and
When you’re always surrounded by people you never have to be alone with yourself.
“The puella is not present for the moments or the hours of her life. Rather, she is absorbed in watching the weight-scale, her hair, the wrinkles, and the imperfection of her world. How can she find her ground of being when this is the very thing she avoids?"
Cat loves drugs because they make her skinny. If Adderall was fattening, I can guarantee it would not be a presence in her life. Every day women slather on makeup and starve themselves and pay tens of thousands of dollars so doctors will crack open their faces and make a better one, and at the root of it all is the desire to attract a man through our beauty so we won’t die alone. Our upbringing, surroundings and meaningful media emphasize the gravity of a heterosexual relationship which has repeatedly proven to have no practicality within modern life. 50% of marriages end in divorce. The media propagates unrealistic standards of beauty and women are conditioned from childhood to prepare themselves for a lifetime of painful and unnecessary procedures so other people may admire their facade. The first time I thought about starving myself I was 11.
"I’m the one with $40 French beauté self-tan who’s dressed like a sort of slutty Commedia dell'Arte Zanni, in white rags, a Dior slap bracelet, a Winston—I know, inexplicably—tucked behind my ear, a nameplate necklace that says “methadone” in cursive (indeed, roll your eyes; please), filthy white Topshop flats, three plastic rosaries in pastel colors that are all chewed up. I’m all PCP eyes and Adderall thighs, gagging down Gatorade at the encouragement of a bored friend, vibrating like a mild seizure.”
I’m always impressed by Cat’s ability to regulate her self-presentation, keeping it firmly situated between glamour and calamity. Her writing is self-aggrandizing while allowing a peek at the smallest hint of the raw pink skin underneath so as to maintain the facet of edgyness that separates her from, say, Julia Allison.
Her audience doesn’t know her personally, so she can depict herself in the way that she’d like us to picture her. Thus, the inveterate invocation of high vs. low culture to reiterate the distance between herself and an actual addict. She habitually makes a point of contrasting her expensive possessions with what would be understood to be 'low-class’ behavior, but it’s just as telling that she never reveals her current source of income. Everyone from the city knows that owning up to a trust fund safety net makes you look bad. It’s antithetical of what grungy, artistic city life is supposed to be! Cat obviously doesn’t have to work very often, someone is giving her money. In Symbols of Transformation, Jung said the only way to rectify the puer state and individuate it within the self was through hard work. Chores– the child’s nemesis.
And it’s paradoxical, because Cat wants to be desired, she wants to be loved, she wants to be acclaimed, but she never wants to be known intimately. “Her fantasy is that one day she will become this ideal self that she cannot achieve now because she flees from reality. There is always a "but” preventing development or commitment because each situation is for the short term.“ The perpetual motioneless movement prohibits the formation of any solid connection. Besides, how can you have a real relationship if you don’t even have one with yourself? Cat writes about sex, but never positively. She never seems to enjoy it. Pictures accompany her articles, highlighting her hollow cheeks. Cat looks beautiful, but anyone who’s spent any time with an addict can tell you it’s the ugliest shit on earth.
”Social climbing through sex has always been one of my specialties. I don’t fuck for love, I fuck to put my name on any given particular New York map.“
Like Cat, I know the most valuable relationship with with yourself, and that this relationship is formed not internally but through people’s understandings of you. The first time I felt really good about myself was in eighth grade when a hot boy wanted to date me. I didn’t break up with my last boyfriend long after I should have because the thought of having to construct your own self-image is really scary if you’ve never had to do so before. And you can escape that responsibility if you keep lying about your feelings and activities so it’s easier for other people to like you. You do it so you can view yourself through the eyes of other people. It’s easier to face yourself when you’re hidden in their gaze.
"Left with a split-off and unrealistic self-reflection, the puella woman needs a perfect body, but not one to enjoy. Denying the body leaves a woman without desire … Jung says that the body depends on the psyche just as much as the psyche depends on the body."
“You’re so skinny,” the celebrity murmurs in the half-darkness as I pull off my t-shirt.
“Ribs are my thing,” I purr.”
The puella wants to create a lovable body, but destroys it in doing so. Munching on speed till your face is green, the puella fragments their entirety in the campaign towards a child’s figure. Models are younger and thinner each year. Ondria Hardin was a face of Prada at thirteen years old, last year. Who is Cat trying to attract through her malnourished physique? What validates starving yourself? Is it demonstrative of restraint, a symptom of our Puritanical origins? Or is it self-abnegation catalyzed by hegemonic beauty ideals, nothing more than a pathetic prostration to corporate propaganda? And what happens to the puella when her signature physique is no longer feasible?
Very recently, Cat’s book proposal was leaked, and I read it with some trepidation. The admiration and fascination I had always felt when reading her past writing was soon replaced with some facsimile of vague disgust.
The comments condemned her while salivating for another taste, but I was no longer interested in making parallels between her words and my life. I thought I had matured, but her past writing held the same appeal it always had. I wish I could say I had gained some perspective, but I feel as stupid as ever. So maybe Cat’s changed. I read somewhere that life is found at the juncture between perception and truth. If Cat is determined to continue perceiving herself as a sexy baby addict Sedgewick-prototype while her body continues its senescence, is her work depleted of some age-specific salience which makes it interesting? What happens when the puella’s body grows up?
As much as Cat tries to avoid this comparison, I think Elizabeth Wurtzel provides a realistic vision of Cat’s future livelihood. They are both pretty, tragic iconoclasts whose wunderkind status disrupted an otherwise viable maturation. Narcissism is the typical response to a puer or puella’s growth, and that characteristic is easily identified in Cat and Wurtzel. Wurtzel is the Ghost of Christmas Future: While she was once revered for her honesty and fresh insight into drugs and youth, she is now pitied and mocked. In a somewhat recent New York Magazine article, Wurtzel detailed the state of her middle-aged life, one that seems devoid of both substantial relationships and self-awareness. Wurtzel never remedied her fragmented puella state. She wouldn’t grow up and she’s now alone and confused as a result of it.
Last week, The Atlantic published another article of hers entitled, tellingly, “I Refuse to Grow Up”. The first two sentences quickly recapitulate that point: “I went to a party in Williamsburg, where I definitely do not live, and was 50 percent older than anyone else. When I told a gentleman that I am 45, he was shocked." She loopingly goes on to itemize the things she has never had the chance to do, but how having never done these things has actually made her more herself than if she had had the chance to do them. It’s a narcissistic nonsensical mess of something striving towards a proud soliloquy but ends up reading more like a list of regrets. ”Only an idiot would prognosticate at all. Such activities only give you gray hair. I am going to die a dirty blonde. A very dirty blonde.“
Can’t you see Cat voicing this declaration fifteen years from now, when her wrinkles require the light of a hundred Vaselined bulbs to sufficiently wash out her author’s portrait? Just like Cat, Wurtzel always draws a crowd of journalists, jumping at the bit to masticate her monologues in a manner both aggressive and aggrieved.Why does Wurtzel draw such malice from her peers? I think it’s because she seems needy. Cat is young enough to get away with feeding off others approval, but when a woman reaches a certain age she is not allowed to ask for such approbation, because doing so illuminates her naked insufficience. The single older woman is a social transgression, so we assume she’s in the process of rectifying her solitude. Wurtzel highlights her isolation, and many feel a need to discipline her for doing so.
”Operating in the tradition of feminine passivity, many puella women stay dependent, immature, and unaware– not knowing what they want or do not want and wondering if they will be loved or hated. The puella lives as if life goes on forever, while she remains stuck on the treadmill of predictable responses, repetitive and self-deprecating behaviors and thoughts that include a disturbed relationship to her body.“ - Susan Schwartz
I think Cat is almost 31. At what point does it stop being cool to be a complete fucking wreck? I remember turning 19 and thinking, OK, it’s probably not alright for me to black out at parties anymore. Cat’s blonde hair and big eyes lend her an ingénue-like physicality that allows her to prolong her puella proclivities., but I feel certain that she will either be coerced into getting clean or relentlessly mocked for failing to do so. Hunter S. Thompsons may sustain his free-wheeling allure and concomitant drug use without question, but a woman writer is unquestionably judged for doing so. At a certain point it stops being, what’s she going to do next? And starts being, when is she going to get BETTER?
"A particularly beautiful woman is a source of terror. As a rule, a beautiful woman is a terrible disappointment.” - Jung
You hit the glass ceiling when your author’s photo is as consequential as the content accompanying it, and the puella’s power as an archetype is fulfilled by a society that values youth to the extent that over 100,000 children are in the sex trade within the United States alone. Girls act dumb so boys will like them. Childhood is to be coveted, womanhood to be repelled. I, like Cat, dress in a manner to hide my curves. I want my body to be androgynous, flat, prepubescent. Becoming a grownup is scary, but growing into a woman is absolutely horrifying. Cat eschews responsibilty, she famously quit her job to smoke angel dust on the roof of Le Bain. If you hide from adult duties, maybe you don’t ever have to really become one?
“The puella does not notice that the idea of an ideal life gets in the way of living it.”
Beauty is a tool, and a potent one at that, but it is only a tool. At any moment it will disappear from a woman’s arsenal and her future is then dependent on how capable she is without its presence. The puella has relied on her juvenile appeal so much that she is lost without it. Every day I struggle with my self-conception. I wrote my 12th grade Seminar final on the sexualization of youth in the media and its feminist implications, and yet I still fundamentally hate my body. I think Cat is really cool, because she has a lot of nice clothing and expensive belongings and her family takes care of her financially so she doesn’t have to care about boring stuff. I think Elizabeth Wurtzel is lame because she’s old and alone and her writing isn’t very good anymore. I’m inclined towards puella behavior because I’ve been rewarded for it in the past, so I can’t judge Cat for wanting to act childishly. I’m scared of turning twenty because my identity is rooted in being a teenager. I don’t want to grow older because I like being young and smart with a fast metabolism and no real responsibilities. I don’t want to grow older because I know I’ll have to start putting on eye creams at night really soon and exercising and worrying about cellulite.
Cat can’t get sober and she doesn’t have a job but her conventional beauty exonerates her, and she’s able to live superfluously as a result of this. She has no roots within her psyche, and any self-examination is limited by her fierce narcisscism, a trait of the eternal child exhibited by its most famous ambassador, Peter Pan. The puella can afford this brand of self-love until a certain juncture, at which point Cat won’t be allowed to publicly love herself in this manner, and she’ll have no reason to, as her beauty will have dissolved with her youth, and beauty was the only thing she had cultivated. This is an inevitability unless she is stimulated to amalgamate her inner and outer being. Stop moving and think, alone without pills or friends or television. Women will be increasingly vulnerable to the puella’s downfalls unless they are compelled to merge their inner and outer lives and find their self-worth in spite of and beyond their physiognomy.
“The puella represents one of the diseases of our era– she does not breathe deeply.”