“Deep Hues and Curves”
It was her thirteenth birthday and she’d asked for red lipstick, strapped heels, and an appointment to have her eyebrows waxed. We went to the mall together to try on dresses for the celebration. She wanted pale blue to match the balloons.
She picked one with a frill along the neckline that accentuated her small waist and cut off above the knee. She had flat-ironed her springy brown hair and twirled a smooth lock around her finger as she gazed at me from the floor of the changing room.
“This would look better on you,” she moaned.
I winced. What was unbelievably clear to me seemed positively inaccessible to Ella. How would she react if I told her she looked like Brooke Shields in the pale blue—smooth-skinned, perfect frame?
What I would give to look anything like that.
Instead I mustered a weak, “I like it.”
I saw a spectrum of colour in her eyes.
She shook her head and tossed the dress to the ground. We finally settled on a violet strapless cocktail dress that draped across her body regally.
I came over early to help set up. Her mother asked me to tie the knots as she inflated helium balloons. I watched Ella stride down the living room stairs in the purple dress, lips tinted bright red, eyes lined, she flashed me the kind of grin that said you’re in on the secret.
I smiled back, twisting the elastic of another balloon around a ribbon and letting it float to the ceiling.
How reassuring it must feel to be factory-made.
“Let me do your hair!” She sang, running her fingers through my messy blonde.
I followed her upstairs, where for a moment as she braided, I watched her lock eyes with herself in the mirror. The colour drained from her face and she looked away, turning back to me. “Will you help me go blonde?”
It was somewhat an absurd request, but one to which I was compelled to oblige. The title of best friend came with great levels of moral responsibility.
It was five and guests were supposed to arrive. Her mother was frosting the cake in the kitchen. It was chocolate, Ella’s favourite. She proceeded to dip a slim finger into the bowl of frosting, receiving a glare in return, and a harsh murmur of disapproval. Promptly, she ran her hand under the faucet, sugar dissolving in water, before turning back to me.
“She’s right,” Ella whispered.
I didn’t ask about what.
“I don’t need it.”
I found myself by her side for the remainder of the evening. It felt natural, shadowing her: my image of womanhood. She grasped my hand as she blew out her candles.
After her mother sliced the cake, I watched Ella stare at the plate placed in front of her. She prodded the chocolate with a fork, all the while inhaling the wafting smoke of blue striped candles. Not once did I see her lift the fork to her mouth.
word by Annie Rubin
colour by SHAKA
From the author: “Adolescence is the time when our ideals of beauty are explored most thoroughly. As we grow, we learn about ourselves through our parents, our friends, and through what we see in the media.
Often, though, we are our own worst critics—what we see in the mirror is far more flawed than what our friends might see when they look at us.
Each of us are made up of many colours, and once we begin to accept our uniqueness, we can rest as confidently as this figure sprawled upon her couch.”