When I was 5 years old, I wanted a Barbie.
I wanted a Barbie so that I could see what perfection was without ever becoming it myself. So that I could envision myself in her plastic skin, and try to melt my own hide down to fit the mold.
So that I could cut my hair to frame my face and wear makeup to hide it – every brush stroke bringing me closer to the cardboard covered version of who everyone wishes to be.
By dressing up plastic dolls in clothes I knew I could never wear and combing their gold strings of hair, I wished I could be so effortlessly beautiful,
Some day, I thought. Maybe.
Maybe if I waited – if I waited to see if my tiny arms would morph into slender petroleum, if my swamp colored eyes would bleed into a crystalline orb of perfection. Maybe then I could stop.
I wanted a Barbie so I could collect them in a box and bring them out when my own life needed a little pretending. I wanted a Barbie because they were pretty – because they weren’t me.
When I was 8 years old, I wanted a purse.
I wanted a purse so I could stick my Imperfection Band-Aids in it and carry them around like a trophy –
“Come and see what mistakes I can hide.”
Lipgloss, concealer, perfume, eyeliner, mascara, foundation, lipstick, eyeshadow, primer. These trinkets are tokens of my bravery – how brave am I to want to cover up the features I was born with, and invent new ones I never had?
How brave it is to smear on a face every day in the hopes of covering up your own?
How worthy of a purse is a woman if they have nothing to carry within it? I wanted a purse to carry my Pop Rocks, pretend credit cards, and my glitter glue. To show others that I was a grown-up – a woman not afraid to carry only glitter and candy. If only I knew that women were expected to carry much, much more.
When I was 11 years old, I wanted a mirror.
I wanted a mirror so I could pick at my skin with sharpened fingernails and curse it with an even sharper tongue. So I could dig into my eye sockets until I saw white spots because I never saw beauty when I looked through those eyes.
I would shine a light down my throat to see if I could spot my heart because I was told it was the most beautiful thing about me – I never found it. I would pinch my chin and prod my belly, wishing the flesh that bounced back would just stay in place.
I bit my lip until it bled to paint them red. I would scratch my skin as if I would discover a new face underneath a layer of rawness. I picked scabs and let them bleed so the skin that grew back would be stronger. I was always told that a strong woman was a beautiful one.
When I was 14 years old, I wanted a scale.
I wanted a scale so that I could count the pounds I lost and gained. So that I could weigh my importance in kilograms. Stepping onto a metal board was like stepping onto a plank – one misstep and you would fall to the ocean depths.
I saw myself in the red arrow, constantly spinning until landing on a location that was never good enough.
My body was not my own; it belonged to the scale, and the devilish numbers dictated how high or low the control over myself was. As numbers increased, the bagginess of my sweaters would too – shields to hide the fact that I am not a person you would see from a magazine.
5 8 11 1418 years old.
Sometimes I look in the mirror and only see raw skin, ravenous teeth and threadbare muscles. Other times I look and see the ocean green of my eyes – eyes that belong on the inside of a storm ready to demolish every single thing in its path.
Most days, I remember that little girls grow up on plastic forms too small for real life. Forms that pave neurons of insecurity and doubt within these tiny glass souls.
Sometimes I wonder whether the dolls I played with were actually voodoo dolls – every brutal brush of the hair, shoddy makeup fix, and slight bend of the plastic legs gave inspiration for fate to intervene with my own body. Through countless struggles with the devil in the mirror, I have tried to brush myself of my imperfections, fix things that others would not like, and bend myself into personas which were as foreign to me as the concept of loving myself.
I am 18 now, and I have realized that all the Barbies, purses, mirrors, and scales in the world cannot change the fact that I am irrevocably and heroically my own work of art. A strong woman is a beautiful woman, yes, but a beautiful woman is not created by forcing yourself to become strong.
There is beauty in everyone. I need not take a flashlight to my own heart because I know that its beats are beautiful enough. A beautiful euphony of the parts of myself that keep me living – from my lovely bones, to my blood, to my brain.
It is a secret I no longer hide from myself: beauty lives inside me simply because I am a creature of the living.
Recently, I was reading over my Creative Writing blog from last year, and I came across a piece that had truly made me think about my perspective on my self-image. Personally, I truly loved this piece, although I know I hated it when I wrote the first version. It is a commentary of sorts on my own perspective on my self-image and beauty, and how various symbols in my childhood influenced how I have previously (and sometimes still) think about myself. I decided to re-write this blog based on my current perceptions of beauty and the influences that are involved in negative self-esteem. There are snippets of the old blog included in this one, because there are certain lines that I am truly proud of and I find it hard to let go of many of them. However, I also added snippets of current perspectives, which I think add a greater breadth to this piece as a whole. I hope people may find some resonance or understanding in this post, as self-image is a crucial concept in today’s society – especially with the influx of social technology and the pressures that come with it. 🙂
3 thoughts on “Pulchritude (Otherwise Known as Beauty)”
This piece almost brought me to tears, for real. This was perfection. Your writing style is so simple yet so poetic. The line that got me was “These trinkets are tokens of my bravery” – like YES GIRL. I adored this piece. It was nuanced well with your own voice, but as you progressed through your trinkets we could see the creative voice evolving with your age and I just loved it. I also want to comment on your bravery in posting such a raw and honest blog about things that all of us ladies face. I know that I have though about all of these things in the exact same way as well over my course of living, and reading this piece evoked such raw and vulnerable feelings in me that I didn’t even know were there. Thank you reminding me what it means to be a beautiful woman Carmen.
I have no improvements to give for this piece – I thought it was absolutely wonderful. Thank you so much for this.
thought** yikes typo
Holy moly guacamole. Like omg. Carmen. I’m speechless because this piece took all the breath out of me. Your way with words just blows me away. God, just the imagery of you using a flashlight to look down your throat to see your heart gave me chills. You had me hooked from the title to the very last word. I feel like this piece speaks a lot to me but also to the majority of women you constantly feel like they’re not enough- feelings like these usually generate from childhood. Your work perfectly embodies this and one of my favourite lines were, “If only I knew that women were expected to carry much, much more.” The images you chose were so amazing and the aesthetic of this piece is overwhelming beautiful!
Like Yas, I have no improvements for the piece except that I wish it was longer cause I loved it so much, lol.
Thank you for posting such a gorgeous and emotional piece, Carmen.