When I was a little girl
I spent years leaning toward myself
in my best friend’s mirror
Becoming an artist of faces—
sultry, smoky, kohl-lined,
all the different looks I’d try
seductress, sunkissed, smoldering
from a palette of shimmering promises
tutorials in Seventeen magazine:
How to make your come-hither-glance
Like if I changed my face
brightened my eyes
heavied my lids with kohl
someone might mine precious from my gaze.
Once I finally got the green-light
from mom—7th grade—
I don’t think I spent
more than a handful of days each year
out in the world without it.
I needed my mask—my armor
so that I could play at pretty:
bat lashes, coy glances,
side smirk, flirt flirt
You do understand:
Pretty was power
pretty was privilege
pretty was a way to be noticed—
the very best way to be noticed
as I learned from all those glossy
all those billboards
and big screens
Pretty was how girls paid their way in the world,
how they showed they mattered,
How they could be seen.
I wanted to be wanted
because to be wanted
was to have power.
But the day after a woman lost
the White House
failed to smash that high glass ceiling
I am tear-swollen and broken everywhere,
I do not want to put on the mask.
I put on my glasses instead,
and for the first time ever
in 16 years teaching
I stand before students
without the mask.
Naked. Ugly, it felt, at first
which matched what my country had become
But Naked and Ugly were REAL,
and I was tired of playing at pretty
especially with the election of a man
who only values women when they are.
And the next day,
when I was only slightly less tear-swollen
and broken everywhere
I did it again
This is not a time to wear the mask.
This is a time to step forth,
broken and stripped of all artifice,
—my art is not my face—
I must be here in this place
we have somehow made for ourselves
Raw, Real, Ready
nothing to enhance or distract,
to say to the world
this is what a woman looks like
and this is what she can do
when she is not wasting time
playing at pretty.
Hazel Kight Witham is a writer, teacher, and artist whose work can be found in Bellevue Literary Review, Two Hawks Quarterly, Rising Phoenix Review, Angels Flight, and Zoetic Press’s NonBinary Review. Her memoir-in-verse, The Thing About Secrets, about the day in middle school everyone found out about her two moms, is out on submission. She lives in Los Angeles with her family.