When you look nothing like your headshots (& other vignettes on beauty)
First, because no blog post exists in a bubble from the sociopolitical context into which it is published: The vignettes below are predicated upon my experience as a woman of color. However, for people of color, not all traumas are equal. So first, I invite you to read this article by A. Rochaun Meadows-Fernandez on black mothers' grief. and to support organizations in the field of protesting against racism in the US.
Inspired by Filipina software engineer, designer, & writer Chia Amisola (thanks for sending her blog my way, Sophia!), I'm putting out more creative, vulnerable writing in this entry — which I tend to revise long after I think it's finished, so if you return here now and then, these vignettes will look different.
While the title of this post might seem humorous, to me anything related to image & beauty brings up some heavy experiences, which I feel most capable of representing through creative writing.
When you look nothing like your headshots
I have a fraught relationship with beauty ("Beauty"). Growing up, I devoured the narrative that to count as beautiful, I couldn't be authentic.
These days, in bursts of craving for authenticity, I want to replace all the headshots on my website with ones that reflect my short hair, unafraid to bare my face.
For now, I let it go — a photoshoot is too much effort. Besides, on professional websites (like anywhere else), beauty is what sparks intrigue. For instance, I'm only asked, "Where are you from?" when I have makeup on.
I've embraced these simple rules: In business, let loose of authenticity. As long as you can check all the boxes of beauty (even if it's only in photos), you'll be fine. Beauty is to be capitalized on. You see it in the music industry, in the weight-loss industry, and in every resort.
The Authority of Loss-or-gain
As I flounder through my college years, each semester watches me drop ten pounds, then slowly gain it back (and a little more). One semester, it’s fifteen pounds. Every accidental glimpse of my reflection evokes a visceral reaction, dictated by this loss-or-gain.
In the aftermath, I'm stretched between the desire to prove that women can take up space — lots of it, joyfully, unperturbed — and the starving contentment that reaches into every crevice of my body when I feel "skinny."
One day in February, something breaks in me so I cut eleven inches off my hair — a sudden, deeply necessary decision. Shattering ties with my long, black hair, I reassert my femininity on my own terms. Not the terms of a young woman who believed, too deeply, that Having Long Hair guarded her fragile place in a world of men. Not the terms of a woman to whom there was no other world.
When I begin to receive attention from men
My first summer in Pittsburgh, it comes in catcalls. A handful of brown men, crowding a sidewalk in Oakland. A couple of black men over loud music in Wilkinsburg. The honk of a white man’s car as he zooms past me. A part of my brain documents each incident, counts almost thirty. I start to predict catcalls with accuracy. By that point, tarnished pleasure dissolves into simple observation: Nothing changed about me this summer. Sometimes, men hurl sounds at the bodies of women to feel powerful.
I’m working at the box office of an orchestra concert (and performing in the second piece). It’s 2018, and the Olympics are on. As I hand a program to an older white woman, she pauses to ask me, “Where are you from?”
A torrent of irritation tears through me. “Around here, Pittsburgh,” I lie with a smile. Confused as to why I’m lying. Unconvinced but also smiling, she explains, “Oh, I’ve been watching the Olympics. All these small women from different countries, they’re so beautiful!” With that, she waltzes into the concert hall.
Amidst the exoticism sizzling in her sentence, I wonder how years of loathing my body can melt seamlessly into the athletic bodies of women on television. (But who knows what their own journeys with their bodies look like?)
When the next person comes, I hand out another program, smiling.
In the fall of my freshman year, my body clashes with the coincidence that one of the most prestigious, intense flute studios of the nation is full of stylish, tall, white-skinned women — whose outfits, glimpsed through practice room windows, are always photoshoot-ready. They jokingly warn me not to ruin “our reputation.” I laugh it off. It’s a joke.
For the next four years, the dissonance of my body against their reputation fills my ears.
Around Christmas in 2017, the amount of space taken up by my body transgresses what I can stand to see. So I pour hours into practicing flute. The quality of my sound, the unearthliness of music, the capacity to be “good" — no, the capacity to be "enough” — all of this mercifully distracts from the transgression of my body, towards the worlds it produces.