You know, the good thing about weekends is it gives you time to relax. To unwind, to stretch your legs a little, and also maybe your word count a bit. But what to do with that extra space and freedom? Recently we've noticed that the New York Times has taken to filling the weekend void with poetic, allusive, hyper-detailed descriptions of underage girl-bodies that seem, well, just this side of yucky. Don't believe it? Read on.
Today's Metro section brings Brooke Hauser's "Ariel and the Silver Car." It's a fascinating glimpse at the rising number of girls ending up in juvenile detention, told through the story of one Ariel Guadalupe, 16 years old today and 14 when she was caught stealing a car. Fascinating, that is, except for the parts that make you feel like a total perv:
"I had a huge headache, so I was in the back relaxing," Ariel said as she sat at her grandmother's table, looking sweet and tough as taffy in an oversize Sean Jean shirt, fatigue-style pajama pants and fluffy pink slippers.... During her Christmastime visit to her grandmother, on the way to buy a quart of milk, Ariel walked with a swagger that, after a lifetime of fights, has become as much a part of who she is as her full lips and her almond-shaped eyes.
Sweet and tough as taffy? Is that salt-water taffy? Caramel? Fruit?
The really remarkable thing is that context doesn't appear to matter much at all. If it's not a work day, and a ripening girl happens to be a part of the story, the Times will go out of its way to make all involved really, really uncomfortable. Consider how that 14-year-old girl with smelly autistic brothers was described in the mag a few weeks back:
Her own face is heart-shaped, sprayed with faint freckles and often demurely animated — lips slightly pursed, eyes knowing — by a look of private amusement on the verge of being made public.
The first thing you notice about 12-year-old Nora Leitner is the dark circles under her eyes. They stand in stark contrast to the rest of her appearance; at a glance she might be any petite, pretty tween girl, with her blond ponytail, elfin frame and thousand-watt smile. But the circles tell a different story: Nora looks as if she hasn't slept in a month.
Jessica, a soft-spoken girl who braids and pins up her hair before each match, says wrestling has helped build her confidence, challenging both her body and her mind.
With the hairnet, the dark T-shirt under her singlet, and the headgear over her ears, there is something oddly demure about Jessica, even as she is on all fours with a boy riding her back. The onlookers yell, ''Lock in that leg'' and ''Keep pushing,'' and her mother yells, ''Come on, Jess, upsy-daisy.''
Where is all this coming from? Our hypothesis is that the trend began with that Dakota Fanning-rape-anticipating magazine story last summer about child actors trying to make it in Hollywood. Not that Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's article was all that titillating; that, um, honor belonged to Larry Sultran's hot/hot/gross photographs. It seems the Times has decided that, when it comes to the girls, 'tis better to tell too much than show it.