A short story from Rebecca Schiff's collection, The Bed Moved.
The ad said “I will rate your vagina,” so I sent it in. It got a two. Warts.
They sent it back with the warts removed. At a doctor’s office, uninsured, the procedure would have cost an arm and a leg. I sent those in, too. My raters shaved my legs and spray-tanned them. They won’t tan anymore in the real sun.
My face got a four point five.
My second face got a six. My raters rated my parts in a converted strip mall by the sea. They hung up a sign that said “Rate Me” over a sign that had said “Oceanside Shoe Repair.” Also, it was more than just rating. They laid cool cloth across my brow, extracted blackheads, taught me that my armpits might be expendable. They trimmed split ends. They dyed my hair.
“Who needs armpits, girl?” I said to a man applying foil packets to my head.
“I’m straight,” he said.
“Can I ask you out, then?”
“I’d prefer you didn’t do that,” he said. “My last date with a face was a disaster. A nine, but when she climaxed, a low seven.”
What constituted perfection? Nobody at Rate Me would explain. They sent back my arms with a long rubric — softness, muscle tone, strokeability. I had low squeeze factor, a weak hug. My rater advised practice with friends or family members before I advanced to hugging members of the gender that scared me.
My feet actually had a good shot at a ten, though the toenail fungus was a problem. I treated the yellow nails with a polish, prescribed by the famous in-house doctor, Dr. Rater. Dr. Rater had founded RateMyMD, and Do You Think I’m a Hypochondriac??? Girls with lupus, fibromyalgia, questionable freckles, gathered in a former sporting goods warehouse, eyed the white coat, grew new moles on the spot. Dr. Rater made a show of not taking advantage.
My vagina couldn’t break five. I consulted with a vulva adviser, who told me, “I haven’t seen this much bush since I went to uni.” He wasn’t Australian, either. He was Something American, his ancestors had once peddled shoes, and he wasn’t afraid to hurt a client’s feelings. Body hair in unwanted areas was an easy fix, according to Rate Me’s brochures. Rate Me eschewed razors and wax — too messy — and went straight for the latest in radiation hair removal. When I got my vagina back from them, rated, irradiated, they’d put it in a satin box with a note telling me that I was now eligible to dine with other top- rated members, and a gift card that said “Ratings Addict.”
“Why are you doing this?” asked my friend with self-confidence.
“I want to improve,” I said. “I want my vagina to improve.” She didn’t bother handing me a vagina mirror or making me read a self-confidence book. She had too much confidence for that. If we’d been reversed, and she’d been sending her nose to get evaluated, I would have gotten her a book, talked to her about talking to someone besides me.
“I need therapy,” I said. “But without insurance, I can’t really afford it.”
“You know you’re great,” she said in a depressed voice.
“You should stop worrying about your pores and start reading again.”
“I read. My pores are enlarged, but I read.”
“I read too,” she said.
You could use a gift card for a plasty. Rhinoplasty. Labiaplasty. The surgeon’s catalog showed ten after perfect ten. Puffed labia were yesterday’s labia. Today’s labia dipped in. A group of raters resigned over the gift cards. They left a note tacked to a kiosk that said “Plastic surgeons are BUYING your raters off. Those of us who went into the rating profession to let women know the truth about themselves are disgusted and saddened by the corrupt influence of these so-called doctors. To that end, we must bid you sevens adieu. We’re starting a company called Natural Ratings for women who find beauty in the way they were born but still want to be a better version of themselves for the sense of well-being being better brings.”
“One-to-ten is done,” they added. “We’re switching to a five-star system.”
The note stayed up for weeks, but the man who did my highlights never came back. I thought about calling him up, but I didn’t want stars. That would make me feel like a restaurant.
My breasts got an eight. That was a surprise, considering their average buoyancy. I wondered if one of my raters was getting soft on me. Maybe he was into me now, the speed at which my appendages shipped, the re-taped box, the packing peanuts. Maybe he just liked nipple hair. I like it. We have to stay sentimental about one flaw, coddle our attachment to something, so we can do extreme violence to the rest. It’s like how the president has a dog.
“Are you crazy?” asked my mother.
“I have to live my life,” I said.
“Rate your life,” said my mother. She left messages saying she was just calling to say hi, but when I called back, it was always more than that.
My nipples came back bruised. Someone had been gnawing on them.
I held for an operator while an automated voice asked me to rate my call so far. The operator, when I reached her, said that she would strive to address my concerns to the best of her abilities. I told her my concerns. The operator said that Rate Me could not be held responsible for damages incurred during the shipping process. Also, might I consider electrolysis on my nipples? They had a guy. He was very good.
“Packages don’t bite nipples,” I said. “And don’t women over there do anything besides answer phones? Women have broken into electrolysis in the non-rating world.”
The operator assured me that she had many job responsibilities, then asked if I wanted the truth about my ass. I didn’t want it yet. An ass rating meant new skirts to hide flaws, or to show off the ass you didn’t even know you were hiding. I had already let the Rate My Wardrobe people into my closet. They let women do the closet, or at least hold the trash bag.
“You could be an operator-rater,” I said to the operator. “You could rate voices. Voices are underrated.”
“Silence, too,” she said. “I’m going to need you to hold for just a moment while I fetch a supervisor.”
“No, wait, Linda, don’t bother. I’m terminating my membership, effective immediately.”
I had no idea if her name was Linda, but saying “effective immediately” made me feel strong. I had quit dating sites with the same terminology. I had stopped wilderness catalogs from coming to my home.
“Rate Me is sorry to see you go,” she said. “We thought parts of you had potential.”
Rebecca Schiff graduated from Columbia University's MFA program, where she received a Berg Fellowship and a Henfield Prize. She lives in Brooklyn.
To learn more about The Bed Moved, click here.