The Burden of Beauty

I sat in my room nervously scratching away at my fingernails.

Chipped black nail polish forming 

10 Rorschach tests readily available on my hands so I’m ever prompting my own wellness.

I anxiously grab a lock and twirl it around my fingers and it reminds me of how my mother started her dreads:

In times of high stress, she would compulsively twist her naps into knots until they locked or until she got her work done….

My sister was an heir to the War on Hair;

She would tug at her lashes all throughout her pregnancy.

By the time my niece was born, my sisters’ eyelids were a raw, fleshy bright pink from the incessant plucking, so she began wearing fake lashes and I haven’t seen her without them since. 

My Grandmother could not be caught dead without a bottle of lotion on her. 

Ointments and creams would rain down on the drought that was her skin

In a fruitless attempt to mend the cracks of old age.

Her once silky skin over time weathered against the the forces

Of heat

And water

And marriage

This is a woman quite literally tearing at the seams, but in her mind the solution was at the bottom of the bottle of shea butter. 

My aunt always lets her long hair flow. 

The Black Rapunzel, she would waltz into Thanksgiving dinners with weaves down to her back.

I watched her swat her hair out of her face as she ate and asked why she never wore it in a ponytail.

She said she has an irrational fear of a man yanking it from behind 

The fairytales lied when they said that’s how Rapunzel’s prince should enter a castle.

My step-mother 

Spends more money on clothes than food because

Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.

I call my mom in tears after a failed French quiz

And she offers to send me skin care products.

In this moment, I realize

I come from a long line of women that blend beauty standards with coping methods. 

Women with societal norms deep in them as poison

Women with a man’s requests reverberating through their bone marrow.

Women who even when the floor is lava, the world is still their runway. 

They understand

“If I cannot act the part, I will damn sure at least look the part.”

I wonder if this is where my fashion sense comes from. 

A valiant attempt at beautiful veneer.

Clothing for the sake of catharsis, not couture. 

The allure of self expression is escapism not demure.

I’ve got narcissism coursing through the branches of my family tree

The sweet sap to dilute the bitter taste of not being enough. 

I wear my sunday best 7-days a week

This is my form of prayer. 

And maybe it’s compensation.

Maybe I am doomed to be added to the tapestry of women in my family who paint their face as a painkiller

Maybe I am simply a stray drop of ink on a white campus canvas.

Maybe my anxious trembles are just heartbeats and I need to come to terms with them.

Or maybe.

Maybe I just need a haircut. 

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