When I was a little girl

I spent years leaning toward myself

in my best friend’s mirror

Becoming an artist of faces—

of eyes

sultry, smoky, kohl-lined,

all the different looks I’d try

seductress, sunkissed, smoldering

painting myself

from a palette of shimmering promises

tutorials in Seventeen magazine:

How to make your come-hither-glance

guaranteed irresistible.

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

Seventeen magazines,

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

and again

and 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.