I fold myself into curves. It didn’t start out this way. For a time I was stick thin. Flat-chested with buttons in a straight line. My favorites were cotton, pastel flowers with hints of pink and purple. Or better yet, peach and lavender. I blended in just enough spinning myself to soothe them. Their distaste for me, no worse than the others. They think we’re gross, weak, ugly until we make ourselves invisible. Each time growing weary of taunts disguised as flirtation.
How my hairy arms and legs upset their delicate sensibility. I tried. I couldn’t hold the seasons still. Wearing layer upon layer until beads of sweat gave them red meat for new insults. Their eyes widened at the sight of gaping roots with hyperpigmentation. Seven shades of brown to offend them anew. Just like watercolors when you do a wash and lift the paint with each stroke.
A wooden beam stained with moss and bleached in the sun. I shaved and pricked them with my bristles. Giving new life to bumps and fading embers. I slathered cream on my mustache to please them. I didn’t know where to begin or end. I was so close to obscurity. Brown skin repels their gaze.
But those unforgiving swells that distract boys in gym class and turn cotton into spandex and lace. Swells that mesmerize and unearth desire. Even as I feign invisibility, curiosity grows from contempt. Then degrades to lust.
V-necks draw their eyes. Crew necks much the same. Turtlenecks are far more hazardous. This tiny fold that meets their eyes. I now contort with sheer fabric and wire. If it wasn’t for baggy shirts and the sanctuary we find in sweats and hoodies. Now the flowers are bigger and darker like camouflage.
It’s so clear now. They can’t see me when I shout “GIRL POWER.” Okay, ‘girl power’ as we chant along to the Spice Girls. We are strength in numbers. I’m most like Baby Spice. Okay, Scary Spice it is. Scary how that happened. I hide Jay-Z under my sweatshirt and wrap myself in Lauryn Hill. Guru’s rhymes, I etch on my arm for safe keeping.
No camisoles to speak of. The straps of my bra distract them. Growing older only makes it worse. Gaining weight much the same. The neckline slips down to reveal the offending flesh. It never changes even as I fold and re-fold myself. Is it the bra? The tank top? The suggestive wisps of hair? The brown swells?
I can’t tell anymore.
Nandini Maharaj is a writer and dog mom with a PhD in public health and counseling psychology. Her work has been featured in Hobart, No Contact Magazine, Clay Literary, and The River. Find her on Twitter or IG @NandiniMaharaj_
image: Kevin Sampsell is the publisher of Future Tense Books in Portland, Oregon. He’s also the co-curator and founder of Sharp Hands Gallery, an online showcase for international collage art. His book of collages and poems, I Made an Accident, will be published by Clash Books in 2022.