Monstrous Femme

My mother always tells me the best is yet to come as she lathers layers of makeup over the red blotches trailing up my chin like tattooed kisses. They’re the only kisses she has ever given me, and they’re proof that from birth, her love has stained me with hurt and shame. The best to her is purely cosmetic, as dictated by her status as any kind of beauty queen you could imagine (homecoming, prom, harvest, snowflake, and any other seasonal pageantry our small town puts on). She was blessed with perfect skin, perfect hair, a perfect husband, and an imperfect child—me, if that wasn’t clear.

We’re opposites. Silky blonde hair falls in gentle waves down her back; mine sticks out from my skull in dark brown scraggles if I let it grow past the crests of my cheeks. Her full lips coat bitter words in a honeyed lilt; mine are impossibly thin, too thin for her to make a difference with the Pantone shades of lipstick that end up painting my yellow teeth instead.

All this isn’t to say my mother is vapid. She is, just not entirely. Beauty queens nowadays have to be more than pretty. They have to be smart, ambitious, and pretty, which is a dangerous combination in her household. It means she understands exactly which chemicals to put on my skin and hair to coax them into copying hers, which foods to stock—and more importantly, which ones to ban—so that my “big bones” might consider shrinking. It also means she fully understands that me being big-boned isn’t inherently a bad thing. No, the bad thing is that I don’t want to be exactly like her, which is unacceptable in her house.

My dad counters my mother’s aesthetic obsession with a wink and the clichéd adage that “beauty is only skin deep,” as if he doesn’t understand that in saying that, he’s effectively agreeing with my mother that I am ugly. What he has never said is that ugliness is to the bone, and he has also never said—because he doesn’t have to—that he is certain my bones are just as ugly as my skin.

When I look in the mirror, I see my birthmarks first, then the bruises along the ridge of my nose where my glasses have tried to fuse into my face as though they were evolving into contact lenses. The bruises are crooked, not because of any accident that bent my frames out of alignment, but—I am convinced of this—because my face itself is crooked. It has a disturbing unevenness that even my mother can’t fix. She insists it’s my imagination, but I can clearly see it every time she forces me to sit in front of the mirror. I watch the subtle snick of her hand when she draws long black wings at the edge of my eyes—she has to change the angle of the one on the left to compensate for the extra skin there. And when she draws a ring around my nonexistent lips, she draws it slightly thicker on the right.

My mother, for all her faults, isn’t a liar: she’s just misguided. She paints falsehoods on my skin and feeds them to my ears. But I am imperfect and unfixable.

Tonight, I’m going to prove it.

The skin of my birthmark is thin and tender, so I will scratch at it until it peels, and I will continue to peel away the skin from my tendons and muscles until it has come off completely. I just know that if I can stretch my face evenly across a surface that isn’t marred by the mountainous bumps of my bones, she’ll understand what I’ve been saying all along. She’ll see the extra skin that droops over my eye and the shocking lack of curvature lining my lips. I know she will. And for my dear father, I will pull away the muscle and ligaments that cover my cheeks and show him the ugly pink stained bone underneath that matches the disgusting filth of my teeth.

After tonight, I’ll be the best version of myself because my big bones will finally see the light of day to proclaim the truth: beauty does not exist within me. It never has and it never will. And I wonder, with that truth grinning at them, will my parents finally believe me?