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FUNNY WOMEN #89: How My Freshman Yearbook Photo Ended Up on the Cover of National Geographic: A Short Docufiction

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Narration: In the fall of 1997, Paula Daniels photographed freshman Naseem Hrab for a high school yearbook. Stunned by the “gross universality” of Hrab’s face, Daniels submitted the image to National Geographic. The National Geographic Society was initially repulsed, then mesmerized, and then repulsmerized. “The Hrab Issue,” as it is now known, was the highest selling National Geographic of all time. Daniels remembers the moment it all began . . .

Paula Daniels: I noticed Naseem in line. His ill-fitting polo shirt caught my eye. He was wide-eyed. He was angry. He was youth. I recall thinking, “Hello, Youth. We meet again.”

Narration: Naseem Hrab remembers the moment . . .

Naseem Hrab: I was waiting in line to have my freshman yearbook photo taken. I was wearing my brother’s old Polo shirt. In hindsight, my haircut was horrible. And my eyebrows, or rather eyebrow–let’s just say that it looked like someone had grafted stubble harvested from the double chin of a fifty-six-year-old Armenian in between them. I must have thought I looked good because I went to school looking like that every day. I’ll be the first to admit I was wrong. That awful photographer thought I was a boy. She kept calling me “little guy.” I was mortified. I wanted to die.

Narration: But Hrab didn’t die; she was photographed instead. And over the next four minutes and thirty seconds, we’ll take a deeper look at the haircut that made millions in the third world weep for the injustice in North America; the furrowed unibrow that captured both the grandiosity and desperation of a generation; and the tear-stained face that asks: How could we have let this happen?

Paula Daniels: I could tell that he didn’t want his picture taken. Like royalty, he was humble first and foremost. He kept encouraging others to go before him. But I needed to capture his raw elegance, so I found a way to make him feel comfortable. I said, “You are a miracle of puberty, little guy!” From the look on his face, I knew he was thinking, “Me? A miracle of puberty?” He sat down immediately.

Naseem Hrab: I sat down because I wanted her to shut the fuck up. I was humiliated. A miracle of puberty? Within seconds, my classmates started calling me “Miracle Pube.” Paula Daniels destroyed my life.

Paula Daniels: His classmates started chanting the words “Miracle Pube.” Not since the Bratislava Womyn’s Menses Festival have I encountered such a celebration of humanity. I only took one photo of Naseem. Just one. And it was flawless.

Naseem Hrab: I repeat: Paula Daniels destroyed my life. My classmates and teachers started calling me Miracle Pube. In Spanish class, I was called El Pubiano Milagro. High school became torture. So I dropped out. I hitchhiked across the country to try to forget the whole thing. Unfortunately, two weeks after I left, the issue hit newsstands.

Paula Daniels: Yes, I sent Naseem’s portrait to National Geographic. The magazine was becoming unbearably superficial. Why put a forensic reconstruction of King Tut’s face on the cover when I had photographic evidence of the real Boy King?

Narration: Hrab’s hike across the country turned into a nation-wide tour when the issue sold over twenty million copies in only three days.

Naseem Hrab: I was basically kidnapped by the National Geographic Society and forced to pose for photographs in strip malls across the country. They made me sit inside a giant cardboard version of their patented yellow portrait frame. Now I have photographic evidence of the precise moment I lost my will to live. When Alfred E. Neuman was illustrated in my likeness, I moved to Iceland. I was done. With everything.

Narration: Wide-eyed and angry no more, Hrab is just angry. She has worked in an Icelandic roadside gas station serving hotdogs for the last 26 years. While her unibrow remains unkempt, her choppy haircut is no more: a limp mop has replaced it. And the ill-fitting Polo shirt? It’s no longer a tenth grader’s fashion statement–it is simply a uniform.

Naseem Hrab: Between you and me, I love a good gas station pylsur. Those crunchy fried onions, that tangy Icelandic mayonnaise . . . Did I mention that I hate my life? People call me Konungur Skapahár Kraftaverk here. Do you know what that means? King of the Pubic Hair Miracles. Thank you, Mad Magazine Iceland. Motherfuckers.

Paula Daniels: Yes, I played a small role in getting Naseem to where he is now. He was . . . is a miracle of nature, and now he lives in one of the most majestic places on earth. It’s the perfect fit. Did you know they call him Konungur Skapahár Kraftaverk? He’s a legend.

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Naseem Hrab has a better haircut now. Her work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, National Post, and McSweeney's Internet Tendency. She writes and lives in Toronto, Canada. More from this author →