Am I beautiful?
by Stephanie Wanga
Am I beautiful, I ask the tall dark handsome man I am staring at as he stares at the other girl, eyebrows done and buttocks otherworldly.
Am I beautiful, I ask as he asks her whether he can get her a drink. I am hovering around the two of them, laughing louder than she does at the jokes he cracks and being all too pleasant. I raise my voice, speaking to him as he tries to speak to her, not even seeing me, looking at her as he answers me.
Am I beautiful, I ask as I refuse to invite you for the party because my friend Emma will be there, and I know you would like her. Her skin is light and buttery. Her hair is all loose curls and glory. Her presence is something like disturbing. I cower before her, cover my nose as I laugh with her, nose wide as my widening inadequacy.
Am I beautiful, I ask as I stare at our chat on WhatsApp, stare at it waiting to see you online, waiting to prove that you are ignoring me after all. I stare at our chat wondering if you might still ignore me if I looked like that girl we saw the other day – aloof and flat-stomached, lipsticked and calm, weave long and flowing, a girl well done.
Am I beautiful now, I ask as I have finally let you get away with my body. Sweat. Passion. The systematic disappearance of my soul. Methodical. Brilliant. Devastating. Am I beautiful now?
I lie flat on my back now, my tongue tired of the asking. I close my eyes, feel the sun warm on the lids of them, and say, I am tired.
I say, I am tired of contorting my body into acceptable shapes, of caging my laughter within the walls of my hands, of stretching myself to meet you wherever you may be, of asking for your permission to look the way I came. I say, I am tired of hungrily studying the ten things I could do with my hair that would get you to look at me, the 5 ways I could pretend that I do not look like I do.
I twist my head to feel the sunshine just a little bit more as I refuse to take note of your awareness of the unevenness of my skin tone. I refuse to bow when I see you looking at me, looking at me as if my originality is a problem, in fact your problem to solve.
I open my eyes and look at you as you try to make me share your problems, as you try to plant un-freedoms in the soils of my soul. I look at you as you tell me, “Here is how we can fix this issue of you.” I look at you and tell you – in a tone of voice that is a refusal to whisper – that my existence is not a thing contingent on your preference, I am not a recipe gone wrong, fixable in 3 easy steps. I am full, wonderfully full, teeming with oddities and regularities, I am neither wrong nor right, I am only real, only human.
I look inside me and laugh at the enemy within. I leave my scars on display as an act of daring, an act of disturbance, an act of protest, an act of life. I am choosing not to call myself mistake, nor to lord my reality above the realities of others, I am only choosing to claim all I am, and to call it fine.