the mixing of our parents’ DNA determining whether
we will have the bulbous nose of our grandfathers
or the slim wrists of our great-aunts. I have seen
girls and women alike do everything in their power
to be branded as pretty. I have seen them digging
hard into the dirt, crawling on all fours in the dark
for the word, two syllables, meaning delicately
attractive but not truly beautiful. I have read
about wars fought for the sake of this word,
this word that means almost but not quite. Still,
those of us deemed worthy enough wear it proudly
on our foreheads like a kiss from the Dalai Lama,
a six-letter prophecy straight out of God’s mouth.
Do you know what it costs us? Do you know how
empty our pockets are? That there are days
when I wake up and stand in front of the mirror
with my self-worth staring back at me, accusatory
and glaring, pointing her finger, and all I care about
is pretty? Am I pretty yet? Am I worth anything?
Pretty, pretty, pretty. It is a heartbeat. I say it
to myself, over and over again until it is a swarm
of bees in my mouth, stinging and brutal and
repetitive. Hurts so good, pretty does. I find the
tenderest spot and press down hard until I jaundice.
Anything for pretty. The shape in the mirror shifts.
Becomes my daughter, asking me if she is pretty,
hands buried deep in my makeup bag. Her mouth
painted on crooked, a fake eyelash stuck to her
cheek. She is not pretty. She is real, hot-blooded
and stubborn, grin splitting her face wide. Pretty
is not enough. She is a warrior crouched on the
bathroom sink, face peering into the mirror,
asking why I do this to myself every morning.
I wipe her face. She asks again if she’s pretty,
persistent on getting her answer. I tell her no.
Tell her that pretty is something to never aspire
to be. It is a rest-stop, somewhere to go when
she’s on her way to becoming something better.
She nods in understanding and then uncaps my
lipstick. Eats it, and then licks her fingers afterward.
Tells me that she’d rather be pretty on the
inside anyway. My darling girl."