A Lonely Girl Phenomenology

By | 3 February 2024

The association of the Sad Girl aesthetic with thinness is as problematic as its association with whiteness. Honestly, when I am sad, all I want to do is eat. As a (white) Sad Girl Who Eats, I’d have to have bathe in endorphins and/or amphetamines to approach the spectrum of thin exemplified by Wollen, Broder, del Rey and other (thin) (white) Sad Girls who would easily be toppled by a strong gust of wind. I prefer my existential feminine overwhelm with a dose of zaftig as delivered by Eloise Grills’s world-altering big beautiful female theory. The malnourished version of sadness correlates too much with the classist glamourisation of the tubercular look, which Susan Sontag eviscerates in Illness As Metaphor: ‘The TB-influenced idea of the body was a new model for aristocratic looks – at a moment when aristocracy stops being a matter of power, and starts being mainly a matter of image’. Glamourising the thinness of the (white) Sad Girl, denies every other Sad Girl her wilting portrait in the last supper of sadness.

On the topic of weight and whiteness Mary Wang’s essay ‘Sad White Women’ is a key text. Wang deconstructs the aesthetic of Sophia Coppola’s diaphanous collection of Sad Girl films and realises that in her directorial capacity Coppola erased women of colour. Wang writes, ‘I learned from sad white women that suffering is beautiful, as long as I don’t weigh more than 120 pounds 1. Anything above that and tragedy loses its glamorous veneer’. In her desire to ingest the sad white women, Wang flees into the suburbia of her mind to morph into a sad white woman who pays someone else to clean her kitchen.

Disappointed with the slenderness of Sad Girl Theory – or at least with the evidence of it that remains online – I return to Kraus’s 1997-era Lonely Girl Phenomenology and imagine what it might look like played out today.

I hold onto my subject positionality as a Sad Girl, a Lonely Girl, not beyond reproach, and kick a stopper beneath the open door for others to claim a Sad Girl politics and define it according to their own aesthetics. The joy I derive from Lonely Girl Phenomenology relates mostly to Kraus’s demands that a Dick in a position of power witness her abjection; her Dear Dick/Dear Diary epistles become an equalising force. Even as society learns to question binaries, structural inequalities mean that certain voices continue to be privileged over others. A Sad and Lonely Girl knows that in her (subjected) position, anything (smart, funny, sad) she has to say will be written off as emotional, feverish or attributed to hormones.

The faithful diary has always been there to hold the underrepresented literary voice, the voice of the female art monster, the voice of the abjected, the lonely and sad. When we commit to writing in our diaries we make a commitment to self-reflection, self-knowledge and self-actualisation. In writing ‘Dear Diary’ we locate a container for our loneliness and sadness, a holding space for the too-big emotions that we can put a lock on or slip under the mattress for safe-keeping. As Sad Girls and Lonely Girls we are smart enough to know, deep down, that the Dick of our obsession was only ever a fiction representing all of mankind, and that this identity will crumble through the weight of our testimonies.

(Spoiler alert!)

In the final chapter of I Love Dick, Dick finally writes back, FedExing two envelopes in one package: one to Kraus and one to her husband. So far, Dick has never viewed Kraus as a person worthy of reply. He’ll tolerate her infatuation without saying ‘no’, he’ll take her to bed because he won’t say ‘no’, but also he’ll never view her as a person unto herself. Sylvère receives a letter in his envelope, but in Kraus’s envelope is Dick’s singular textual (non-) response: a photocopy of the letter he wrote Sylvère. A Sad and Lonely Girl might appropriate a Dick’s dick response as the ending for her novel. A Lonely Girl Phenomenology might be its own best revenge.

  1. 4 kgs
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