There was a time when I thought beauty had nothing to do with me. I didn’t see any part of myself in the fashion magazines, in the movies, or on TV, not even in commercials advertising artificial ways to turn an ordinary face into a pretty one. In a way, this was a good thing. It helped me find my authentic self. When other girls my age tried to cover their true selves with the right clothes and makeup, I didn’t bother. There was no chance of beauty for me.
As a teenager, of course, it wasn’t as simple or positive as abandoning the quest for artificial beauty to embrace my authentic self. I was pretty miserable about the idea that I’d never be beautiful. I was mad, not at the beauty standards that excluded me, but at myself for failing to meet them. If I couldn’t be beautiful, it seemed, then I couldn’t be loved. At fourteen, I was missing that vital first step toward romantic love – I’d never been kissed, and for that I blamed my acne-marked skin, my widening hips, and most of all, my too dark, too big, unkissable lips.
Untitled by Myra Greene
from the series
Character Recognition, 2006
One of my friends, a girl who often heard compliments on her beauty, handed me her lip gloss, telling me to try it on. Now, I didn’t know much about makeup, but I could tell just by looking at the pale pink bottle that it was meant for girls with lips of a similar color, not for me. I tried to say so, but the other girls encouraged me to give it a chance. I wouldn’t know how it would look until I tried, they said. Then they all waited. The giggling had stopped. I was ruining the fun.
So I sighed, said “fine,” agreed to try the lip gloss on so I could prove them wrong and we could move on. I touched the pink brush to my lips, sure this was a bad idea, but somewhere in the back of my mind was a quiet hope that perhaps they were right, after all. This was makeup I’d avoided, but maybe spreading it on my lips would be the key to unlocking my beauty.
But when I turned to show my face to my friends, I knew I’d been right after all. They shrieked with laughter, and when I turned to the mirror, I could see why. I looked ridiculous. The glittery pink goo looked hopelessly out of place, as if there was nothing it could do for someone like me, with the dark of my lips persisting through, rather than fading to the shimmer meant to make them beautiful.
The laughter burned, and I wiped the gloss away, as urgently as if it was burning me, too. They tried to insist that I join in the laughter, that I stop being so serious and accept the hilarity of the situation.
My friends didn’t know that, while they were surprised and amused by the absurdity on my face, this situation wasn’t new to me. I’d been there before, looking into the mirror with disappointment, sure that nothing I put on my face could possibly make me beautiful. All I wanted now was to leave, and let them continue without me. I was ruining the fun. My lips were destroying the dream of beauty.
She does not know
she thinks her brown body
has no glory.
If she could dance
under palm trees
and see her image in the river,
she would know.
But there are no palm trees
on the street,
and dish water gives back
-William Waring Cuney