Maybe it had something to do with Barbie’s gloriously stoic face. Sure, she was technically smiling all the time, but there was an intense indifference deep beneath that pliable plasticine look. Fuck her up the ass? She’ll smile. Shove her head in the toilet? She beams. Nothing matters to her. Just as it doesn’t to a mannequin in a clothing store. Maybe that’s how Ava first got the idea to start posing as one whenever her mother would go shopping. Bored by Lena’s ability to pore over things she wouldn’t actually buy for hours and hours, Ava was left to find her own source of amusement, which was to pose as a mannequin amid the other child-sized ones, waiting to see how long it would take someone to notice she was real.
Surprisingly, it would often be quite awhile, a testament to the self-involvement of most people. People who would inevitably jump in startlement at the sight of Ava batting an eyelash or slightly moving an arm once they started looking too closely at her. Then they would titter awkwardly and ask her where her mother was. Ava would shrug and go back to posing. Sometimes, a security guard would be called, but what was really the harm in a little girl using her “imagination”? Imagining she could morph into a mannequin with the same plastic indifference as Barbie. Or, if it was a more expensive mannequin, then a fiberglass indifference.
The last thing on her mind, in fact, was that her commitment to this “craft” would incite the interest of a talent scout one day when they were at the Beverly Center, her favorite place of all to “pose.” He was charmed and riveted by her ability to stand stock-still and expressionlessly, passing along his card to Lena. He told her, “This kid could model, think about giving me a call.” Unfortunately for Ava, Mr. Lenox had caught Lena on a day when she was feeling particularly bleak about money, having just received a notice of eviction on her door that morning (therefore naturally needing a bit of retail therapy). Looking from the card to her daughter imitating a mannequin, she thought, “Maybe this is my chance to commodify a child that’s so far only been a financial drain.” Or something to that effect. Though she would never admit to herself that’s what she was really thinking.
So it was that Lena called Mr. Lenox a few days later, not wanting to seem too eager about taking him up on his offer for a meeting. She informed Ava the day of, telling her they were going to see someone about “investing” in her future. Meanwhile, Ava just wanted to go to the mall to pose with some more mannequins and generally fuck with people’s heads. Little did she know, that wouldn’t be happening again for a rather long time as she was forced on audition after audition for various print ads, landing all of them as a result of her unmatched ability to look aloof in that way that just borders on sexy–which, of course, no brand wants too much of in their child models (though of course they secretly do, knowing that everyone with purchasing power is a defiling perv). It was all that mannequin emulation–almost two years of it. Time spent in the abyss of fluorescently lit, linoleum-floored centers of commerce that became like a second home. The only place she felt truly at peace. The mall as a concept itself had become like the cortex of her cerebrum, protecting her from all of life’s banalities. Although some might say that there could be nothing more boring than trying to imitate a mannequin, Ava knew of no task more scintillating. Trying to capture the nuance of deadness–or rather, “non-aliveness”–with the utmost precision was her raison d’être. The closest she herself could come, ironically, to feeling animated. For every other activity left her with a sense of complete voidness. It was strange, but then, so was existence. Something that was somehow more neutralized–less hyper-intense–in the mannequin world.
Despite missing the wide open environment of the mall–a milieu that felt like the human version of where cattle went to graze and chew on the cud of capitalism–she did her best to dissociate. Inspired herself to perform by pretending she was the only child mannequin among all the other adult ones. She was special, someone to be cared for among this fiberglass tribe–for she really did prefer the aesthetic of fiberglass mannequins. They were just so much more dazzling. Had an unmistakable sheen that the plastic ones didn’t. That’s how she felt about herself. And how, evidently, everyone she was working for did as well. For it didn’t take long for her agent to suggest parlaying her modeling success into a film or TV role. Which was the last thing Ava could have wanted, not aware that being too good at what she did already would force her into some other unwanted responsibility. But Lena was overly addicted to the paychecks at this point, and it was too late to turn Ava back toward the course of childhood. Because, alas, as everyone knows, no child star actually has a childhood. Ava couldn’t have known that, for it was before the emotional fallout of people like Macaulay Culkin and the Coreys Haim and Feldman to uphold as a template for reasons not to succumb to parental pressure.
At the same time, an instinct within her bubbled to the surface the night before she was to audition in a role that would put her alongside Rob Lowe (playing the part of a father who is only recently informed he has an eight-year-old daughter when his French ex dies unexpectedly in a plane crash from Paris to New York–unfortunately, this would mean Ava would have to adopt a French accent and take the required elocution classes to do so). She crept out of her bed, walking past her mother, who had fallen asleep to an episode of Golden Girls in the living room, with ease. She got on the bus, paying the fare with the change she was “so generously” allotted in her piggy bank by Lena. By now, she was well-aware of all routes leading to the Beverly Center. And there was nothing stopping her. Before her life would change forever, she had to return to the one spotlight that truly mattered: the fluorescent one she had shared on so many occasions with her mannequin tribe.
After shimmying through a small opening in one of the back security gates, she made her way through the darkened mall. It wouldn’t be long before they found her, she knew, but she would make the most of it in the interim. Smashing through the display window of Limited Too with a nearby potted plant, the glass shattered and set the alarm off on contact. Time was of the essence now. And as she jutted her hip out to knock aside and usurp the only other child mannequin on display, she realized how humorous it was to think that the Beverly Center had once been an amusement park for children called Beverly Park and Kiddyland. She felt as though she was in it now for all the delight and excitement she was having over resuming her rightful place on a mannequin pedestal. A short-lived moment made even sweeter by the fact that when security and police authorities descended upon her, they couldn’t distinguish her from the other mannequins. It was her greatest performance yet. And finally, she had to reveal herself to them to make it known, “Fuck being a child star! I wanna be a child mannequin!”