Aspirational, or, let me sell you shit you beautiful person

I could sell you a bra. This bra, it’ll fit wonderfully, lift everything where it ought to be, smooth out those lumps, and hoist your tits to next Sunday. It will embrace your curves and help you feel like a “real woman,” which we both know you can’t do without this bra. It will whisper softly in your ear how your B-cup needs no changing, your DD-cup is ample and beautiful, your 38-inch band endearing, embraceable. It will improve what you thought was un-improvable, normalize what you’ve been told is bizarre, and comfort you on those lonely nights when you’re pining for the man who loved hot wings and hated cellulite.

I could sell you that bra in 20 minutes or less, but I thank my favorite carpenter Jesus that I don’t have to. Bra slinging is a thing of my past.

For the last handful of years, I’ve helped people sell you things. Bras, pajamas, hosiery, hair dye, deodorant, body wash, even an ill-fated foray into vibrators. I’ve been the voice on the phone, reassuring you when a purchase went wrong and guiding you towards something that will fit more perfectly on your body and into your life. You’ve got this, girl. I’ve got you, I cooed. I’ve been the enabler, running copy tests and helping to craft emails designed to hit your inbox just minutes after your paycheck hits and that first glass of wine kicks in. I’ve ensured the successful arrival of the glossy ad in the glossy magazine you read while Lily at Angel Nails did your glossy toes. I’ve lived face-to-face with all the ways marketing and advertising invade your life.

There are days I feel complicit in something insidious.* But really it isn’t about the things I have sold you, or the language that did the selling, or the woman in the picture who is ultimately the embodiment of what you were sold: hand-picked, smiling, beautiful, nameless. It’s about the man in the back room who put all those pieces together and uttered one word. Aspirational.

You who have worked in the business of selling know it well: “She’s not… aspirational enough.”

Wrapped up in that one word is everything the man in the buttoned up suit can’t say out loud. She’s not enough for him to buy her. She’s not thin enough, beautiful enough, light-skinned enough, happy enough, relaxed enough, confident enough, tits-hoisted-up-to-next-Sunday enough. And if the 36D with the wicked smile and thighs that could crush a man got kicked to the curb under the guise of “aspiration,” the rest of us haven’t got a chance in hell.

That one little phrase does so much work for him that he can retire somewhere nice with no mosquitos without ever realizing the impact of the aspiration he sold. He** is the reason we were pounding our fists because who chose those five identical girls for Miss Teen USA. The reason you hear us crying for Leslie Jones to get the kickass red carpet dress she deserves. The reason you see women on Twitter lift each other up, cheering on every crop top and bathroom selfie. We aspire to be kind people screaming into the void about how beautiful other women are because God forbid we become the man in the suit.

All the while, He Our Suited Friend has me hunting for aspirational Joe and aspirational Jenny. Their smiles are wide as Joe reaches up and playfully wipes some invisible crumb from Jenny’s cheek to say: Microwavable dinners, beautiful people eat them too.

* If you’re my employer reading this, I do indeed like my job and object only to the ickier parts of advertising, all of which is to say please don’t fire me.

**The man in the suit, of course, is often a she.