Then there are the pictures. Even though I’m the writer, I know that the pictures made the story sail around the world. As many readers have pointed out, the thrust of the photographs (Look at how sexy I am! Objectify me!) runs counter to the thrust of Lorenzana’s story (Don’t treat me differently cause I’m sexy! Don’t objectify me!). The pictures created a psychological puzzle; they unleashed contradictions in Lorenzana’s character. From the getgo, she was never a heroine, a universal victim, or proof of some wave of discrimination against attractive people, as subsequent news accounts painted her to be (When news goes viral, the amplification factor itself seems to suggest something like a trend). A few weeks into the story, a local paper uncovered a Discovery Channel video on plastic surgery, which featured a twenty-six-year-old Debrahlee Lorenzana, gushing about getting her second breast augmentation and wanting to transform herself into “tits on a stick.” The contradictions about Debrahlee—readily apparent from the first pictures—multiplied. Why would a woman fighting a lawsuit against oversexualized attention desire so much sexualized attention?
People love stories about people getting treated unfairly, they love stories where they can privately and pettily bash the subjects, and they also love puzzles. Lorenzana’s story was all three, which was one of the reasons why people loved talking about it. ‘I don’t know what to make of her!’ was by far the most common response I heard about this from strangers and friends. They couldn’t figure out what kind of person would go forward with such a lawsuit; what kind of gutsy (or foolhardy) person would refuse to do something as simple as change her clothes, even when doing so, however wrong in principle, might have eased things for her. (She claims that she was such a target that she would have been attacked for anything she wore).
The story is as much about what is permissible in the workplace as it is about the sort of person that makes drastic choices and ends up in drastic circumstances—the kind of people who disproportionately end up as the subjects of news stories. Lorenzana has had a difficult life. Some people comfort themselves through food, some people through drink and smoke, and some people make themselves beautiful. If you have the discipline and the desperation, and some good genetics to begin with, hell, you can make yourself drop-dead gorgeous. Her vanity, her desire to get attention and be loved, exert a strong influence on her judgment. Maybe that’s pathological. Maybe that makes her so different from the rest of us, but more likely than not, it doesn’t.
I caught up with Lorenzana on a Sunday morning, a couple days after the story broke. She was driving away her boyfriend’s house, in Queens. She was going to McDonalds. Her e-mail inbox had maxed out, her Facebook page had been cancelled for too many requests, The New York Post had camped out on her stoop. She was thinking of changing her cell phone number (She eventually did). The thought flashed in my head: this person’s life will never be the same. Clearly, this was all the attention she’d ever wanted, but when it actually happened, she was overwhelmed. She got to the drive-thru. I overheard her order pancakes. Then somebody called. It was a Spanish-language television channel, calling to arrange a sit-down interview in her home. She had to go.
As for me, I recently published another cover story. I’m proud of the story—about the commissioner of the state’s juvenile justice agency and her battle with a powerful union. It’s been just over a week, and every day a number of thoughtful comments pop up on our Web page—we’re up to about thirty. After Lorenzana, that feels really slow. I might have to begrudgingly accept that it could be that way for a while. I also might just have to find another hot banker. There’s nothing so motivating as being in the spotlight.