Amy Blakemore – Nonfiction

Take it Off

Ninety minutes: this is how much time I need to get ready for class. I do not need this time to get breakfast, down my morning coffee, or meditate. I need ninety minutes to make-up my face and make up for make flaws. I need ninety minutes to myself “presentable.”

Pri-ˈzen-tə-bəl (adjective): present and able to save the world. Girls glide around campus on eye-shadow clouds, not sweating, never sweating, trying to hide that their perfection took time. And whether they make-up as much as me or only add a little blush to their cheek, we all smile “present” and “able” as if we are who seem.

Abel (proper noun): the first murder victim. I wonder if Cain hated the inherent confidence in his name. Consider a conversation:

“Who are you?”

“I’m Abel.”

“Able to what?”

“No, I am always Abel.”

Bastard. If I met Abel today, maybe I would hate him too. No one is able all the time. Consider Cain’s perspective: rejected, second-rate, not good enough. Do I agree with what he did? No. But maybe, in his flawlessness, Abel started a war.

Have I? Have we, the girls on the green? No one really hates the Present-and-Ables of our world. Hate is an easy way to pretend that you don’t care. When I see a gorgeous girl on the green with better hair, brighter skin, that look that says “God himself would give me a thumbs up,” I don’t hate her. I envy her. The next day is a ninety-five minute morning. I’m more careful with my eye-shadow; I hold my head up higher as a result. A girl in sweatpants might see me, straighten her hair the next day, take an extra 10 minutes. Someone sees her. We operate like this, waging guerilla warfare with perfectly glossed lips. We stake out trenches in front of our mirrors and walk outside as if we know nothing. As if we look that way without trying.

As if. I don’t, at least. I don’t want other people to see me without my mask on because I don’t want them to know that it’s a mask. If it ever came off, they would. I want to say,

“I’m able. Always able,”

But it’s a lie. Do other women tell themselves the same thing? I don’t know; we don’t speak about this. If I fray at the edges, I sew myself up. I’m fraying now, making claims that we’re all fighting to establish who is the most beautiful – the most beautifull of herself – when maybe I’m just trying to prove it to myself. I wish I could cover-up that thought, but it’s one of those blemishes that’s too big to hide. My use of “we” is a weapon I grip at night; it makes me feel safe. Everyone has this problem, I repeat, it’s not just me – it can’t be just me.

But it’s possible, very possible, that my insecurities, like the broken capillaries on my face, are permanently etched. It’s possible, very possible, that I project them onto every other girl who tries to look presentable.

P-resent-able (adjective): bringing inherent resentment. I can’t even enjoy my 90 minute days. My head is stuck in the mirror that I fixed myself with. Does she notice the breakouts on my cheek? Does my powder look too fake? Does she – wait, she’s talking, answer quick – “Yes, of course, I’m great!” – cover-up. Don’t smile too big: your foundation will crease. Pick apart your appearance.  Pick apart your picking apart. Pick apart your words.

If I could pick and choose, make-up would be made-under: make-up would be obsolete. I would walk out the door without my war paint on; I would put down my mascara gun and stop shooting down my pride. Why can’t I take my defenses down?

I’m unable. Every morning, for ninety minutes (or more), I wage war with myself. Hide this, highlight that, strategize, strategize, no sleepy eyes, you’re perfect, you’re perfect, pretend that you’re perfect.

Then on campus there are clean-faced girls, peaceful girls, who look better without even trying. I go back to the drawing board. I dig for self-esteem in pots of cover-up and blush. I look in the wrong places, and I know it. I tell myself that every boy and girl on this campus wants me perfect, but underneath the eyeliner, the eyeshadow, the pretenses, I know: it’s just me.

How do I fix that?

I need to be taught that beauty is honesty. I need to fray and be okay with it. I need to learn how to take my make-up off.

I’ll consider this a start.