Funny letters, those two. One geometric, one curved. One rarely used, exotic, seductively forbidding, the other clad in the everyday garb of conversation. Women, of course, understand them as a potent symbol: extra-small, the fashion world's equivalent of a dictum. They encompass desire, submission, squeezing the body down to fit men's fantasies, with an overlap of helplessness and fragility, the land of annihilation where identity sleeps and obedience thrives. It is also the land of anorexia, where self folds into nonexistence except in the dreams of testosterone-laden bullies. These are the women that Gabriel Garcia Marquez calls “those skinny little tadpoles who seemed to disappear when they took off their clothes.” In the mirror of the insecure, their opposite yet equal are those sensuous women “who looked as if they could eat an alligator raw”. (Marquez again.)

Men have pre-empted XS in other ways as well. XS stands for turbo-charged engines and blowoff valves. It was the name chosen for a supersonic research project of the Armed Forces and the precursor to NASA, the first aircraft to fly faster than the speed of sound, the first of many highly secret military airplanes. Nicknamed “Glamorous Glennis”, for the wife of Air Force Captain Chuck Yeager who piloted the first manned supersonic flight, it was described as “a bullet with wings” and was awarded the 1948 Collier Trophy by President Harry S. Truman. It is also the name of a Gay and Lesbian club in York, Pennsylvania which features a DJ called Jazzy Joyce; and a tattoo parlor in Rochester, Minnesota where you can get not only tattoos but body piercing as well.

There is another dimension of XS that crosses my radar these days, as excess. You see it in the art market, with Damien Hirst's platinum human skull covered with 8,601 diamonds selling for one hundred million dollars and titled “For the Love of God”(humility and poverty don't register in this world) and his Lever House Lobby exhibit in New York City featuring the carcasses of dead beef, sheep and shark. Chris Ofili has produced two giant bronzes of a man and a woman defecating. Greek collector Jakis Joannov owns a 90' yacht named “Protect Me From What I Want” (the name lifted from a Jenny Holzer piece). He wants to lease a slaughter-house complete with meat hooks and bloody walls to exhibit art. Steve Cohen, head of SAC Capital Advisors, is said to have bought nearly one billion dollars worth of art in the past six years, including Marc Quinn's self-portrait head made of the artist's frozen blood. Then there was the opening of the Grand Street Gallery, where a performance group called “Gelitin” entertained dinner guests while wearing “buckets on their heads, spike heels, fishnet stockings, and not much else (unless you count the fetishistic pendants dangling from their pudenda)”. Eventually these intrepid performers climbed ladders and urinated into their associates' hats.

Today's excesses are not confined to the art world. You can rent space in London's West End for an annual fee of $328. per square foot. (Let's see: my first studio in Carmel-By-The Sea had 1000 square feet...)In Singapore rents have grown 83% during the past year. Sam Zell sold Equity Office Properties Trust last February for 39 billion dollars and teaches students that the phrase “Saint Sam” is an oxymoron. He once boasted of “dancing on the skeletons of other people's mistakes”. He is known to have said, “Hey! Reach down in your pants and see if you can find anything down there. Don't you have any balls?” It reminds me of a securities trader who once boasted that he who dies with the most toys wins. The French philosopher Dieudonne has characterized this phenomenon as “the cult of profit as the central value of society”.

I don't yearn for diamonds, yachts, or frozen blood. The vocabulary of faster and richer does not vibrate for me. But I treasure the X's and O's of goodness and generosity that so many have brought into my life. To them, and all of you, I send wishes for a peaceful and joyous holiday season.

c. Corinne Whitaker 2007