Maybe one reason I do not wear makeup is to scare people.
If they’re close enough, they can see something is different with me,
something unnerving, as if I have no features,
I am embryonic, pre-eyebrows, pre-eyelids, pre-mouth,
I am like a water-bear talking to them,
or an amniotic traveller,
a vitreous floater on their own eyeball,
human ectoplasm risen on its hind legs to discourse with them.
And such a white white girl, such a sickly toadstool,
so pale, a visage of fog, a phiz of
mist above a graveyard, no magenta roses,
no floral tribute, no goddess, no grownup
woman, no acknowledgment
of the drama of secondary sexual characteristics, just the
gray matter of spirit talking,
the thin features of a gray girl in a gray graveyard—
granite, ash, chalk, dust.
I tried the paint, but I could feel it on my skin, I could
hardly move under the mask of my
desire to be seen as attractive in the female
way of 1957,
and I could not speak. And when the makeup came off I felt
actual as a small mammal in the woods
with a speaking countenance, or a basic
primate, having all the expressions
that evolved in us, to communicate.
If my tee-age acne had left scars,
if my skin were rough, instead of soft,
I probably couldn’t afford to hate makeup,
or to fear so much the beauty salon or the
very idea of beautyship.
And my mother was beautiful—did I say this?
In my small eyes, and my smooth withered skin,
you can see my heart, you can read my naked lips.
“No Makeup” from Arias by Sharon Olds. Copyright © 2019 by Sharon Olds. Originally published by Alfred A. Knopf. Used with permission of the poet.
This poem was originally read in the On Being episode “Odes to the *****.”