Embracing White Noise

March 7, 2020 / Laura Nguyen

Anxiety laces itself across the surface of my skin. My heart throbs with each toss and turn, body giving out in the most wrenching, impactful movements. She’s reaching, she’s finally reaching — 

I awaken.

It was only a matter of seconds before her long nails enclosed around my throat — my soul, actually. Her prominent, sickly gaze extended into my eyes while she made her purpose clear: she was out to get me, to reach into me and steal every little bit of me. The long folds of her white dress surrounded me, choking me. Paralyzing me. I was drowning in death, and she was pushing me deeper.

But I was safe now, away from sleep.

Away from her.

As a child, the creepy, crawly monsters that rose goosebumps onto my skin were the dark, unknown creatures of the night. They rattled against the tree branches outside my backyard, and had long claws and indecipherable growls. But as I found myself growing older, going through different phases of life, my fears took to different, specific qualities: a malevolent woman in a purely white dress. It wasn’t just the woman and her horrid appearance — it was the white dress attached to her. The mere sight of the dress made my stomach twist, and I avoided everything that had to do with it.

White, when attached to something so dreadful, alludes to a fear far greater than the typical horror norm. It’s as if using the color was a mere attempt to conceal the sin she exudes. Pure white stands out against sallow skin, dark, reaching eyes, and sinful crimson. Such an opposite dynamic leaves the viewers in distress, their minds wondering why such an innocent young girl ever transformed into that. That, describing a dehumanized, almost creature-like character that crawls unnaturally on all fours, that comes to grab you. Atrocious. How could someone so normal ever turn into something so inhumane?

Perhaps we’re all accustomed to the media portraying women as these vulnerable, perfect little humans, with an absence of ill-intentions and sin. And when that perfect little bubble of our worlds pop, every fear comes for us. It’s a threat to our assumptions, to this balance of a female character being hidden and overshadowed. Director and movie editor Brett Sullivan says, “When you think about a younger girl going from innocent to evil, that’s the biggest journey you can ever take. Historic images of women are damsels in distress, and women aren’t supposed to be dangerous or deadly. When someone metamorphoses that role into a killing machine, it’s unexpected.” She becomes the main attraction, with all her ugly tagging along. And her white dress comes in front with her, breaking the symbolism and meaning of the iconic attire. Instead of white evoking meanings of purity and cleanliness, it reveals an imprisonment of identity and role.

White dresses constricted me with their meaning of what it meant to be a woman, and that my identity— my fears, would be lost amidst this definition.  Julia Petrov and Gudrun D. Whitehead’s book, “Fashioning Horror: Dressing to Kill on Screen and in Literature,” reasons that “the Victorian sense that female sexual activity is for procreation reasons only as well as the dress being symbolic of women’s loss of property rights also haunts the fabric.” La Llorona’s a connection to a duty mothers have, but she’s also tied with a fear that children could be taken away from their mothers. But in the end, she overpowers the identity she’s defined, a mother and wife, in exchange for a representation of her fears, despair, and imperfections.

With the antagonist’s lack of perfection, beauty and identity encased in maternal functions and innocence — without the presumed elements of femininity embodied in this white dress, the woman is considered eerie. Deathly. Unsightly. She’s considered inhumane, and her only tie to humanity is the white dress that dangles on top of her. But she breaks out of this incarceration of expectations that’s kept her feelings inside. And that’s something worth celebrating in the end.

She survives. Well, kind of. She’s killed, destroyed, but she looms. She’s there. She’s the existing evidence that my problems are real. She’s in our memories, in our fears. She, and her portrayal of her sins are framed forever. And whether we like it or not, she’ll continue to be there. The white dress that attempts to cover up her fears has no effect; she destroys and takes as she pleases. She’s not chained to the dress — she’s chained to her insanity.

Like her, I’m breaking my own expectations of myself. This fear of hiding inside, the veil over suppressed “negative” emotions and flaws — it needs to stop. There’s no need to hide the awfulness that bottles up inside, no need to wash the “blood” off our hands. We aren’t conformed by what was determined before our existence. A white dress will not confine the atrocity within me, nor will it attempt to define what is beauty. It won’t keep me pretty nor dainty.


White dresses don’t scare me anymore. Instead, my palms expand over the fabric to smooth it over. I try to find the emotions that once controlled me, but a longing desire flusters up in my soul instead. They give me courage to portray myself, fears and all, without being imprisoned inside responsibilities and roles. These iconic, pure white dresses make me want to unravel —  unravel the unpretty inside me. ■

By: Laura Nguyen

Layout: Xandria Hernandez

Photographer: Erin Walts

Stylist: Jacob Tran

HMUA: Andrea Sanchez & Jane Lee

Models: Maggie Deaver & Sheridan Smith

View the full spread as it appeared in Issue No. 13 here.
ABOUT                  CONTACT                 STAFF                FAQ                 ISSUU