“Well, for starters you would have to get rid of these terrible bootcut jeans, get a keratin treatment to tame that frizzball on your head and…,” she paused for emphasis, “...it goes without saying that your unibrow isn’t doing you any favors.” Lindsey flipped her golden strands that framed her delicate nose and ice blue eyes as a final flourish.
Maya felt her face rise in temperature starting from the ears, like an ink blot spreading in water. It wasn’t that anything Lindsey had said was news to her; she had long stared at herself in the mirror wishing her hair would lay flatter, or that her thigh gap was bigger, but to hear it reflected back at her was more mortifying that even she had imagined. But she had to hear it; this was her opportunity for a factory reset to wipe herself clean of the past. Her chance to be someone completely different; her chance to be the desirable one, a character she had never gotten the play the part of before.
“Alright, understood. Is this all part of the package? Or is there anything additional?” Maya knew the only thing standing between her and her better self was paying for what was needed, well, paying for it without her mother knowing. She was using part of her financial aid loan for this; that way it would just be filed under “education expenses”.
“Yea, yea this is all part of it. The only thing not included is the weight loss plan, but…” she paused to give Maya a once over, “...honestly with some make-up contouring and after we fix your hair, we can decide if we need it. I mean your stomach definitely needs work, and so do your legs, but those are a lower priority, for now, you know. We got more immediate things to fix.” Lindsey let out a laugh that sounded like an airhorn on a silent night. Maya felt the hair on her arms (which she felt she had too much of) rise up in a mix of embarrassment and defiance. Even though the woman in front of her was laughing at her, it was her mother that Maya’s ire was directed toward. She was the one who had stood between Maya and the world’s validation. It was easy for her mother to eschew the world’s beauty standards, she thought to herself, when she was born with big eyes, a small nose, and skin that exuded radiance without a touch of make-up. Maya had somehow inherited only her mother’s round hips and often gazed at her father’s nose on her face in dismay.
“I can write the check now,” Maya felt the resolution in her grow stronger at the thought of her mother. She knew her mother would be horrified to find out that she was using part of the college aid for this endeavor, but Maya also figured this was the most likely time she could get away with it. She was living away from home for the first time. Chancing upon this makeover service advertised in her new student brochure about campus life had just reinforced to her that this overhaul was as important to her college experience as the major she picked.
Lindsey nodded in approval and shot back, “We can get started right away then.”
Maya stared at the reflection as if sizing up a stranger she had just met. She hadn’t stopped feeling enamored by the woman with the silky hair and contoured cheeks in the mirror. It had been a month since Lindsey had given her mark of approval after putting the before picture next to Maya’s face in the mirror for emphasis. Maya had cried that day, partly in happiness over her dream looking back at her, but also thinking about all the time she had lost never experiencing this feeling before. “I am beautiful,” she said to herself for the first time in her life. It was a feeling as foreign as the rest of her freshman college experience. And she felt it over and over in the days that followed, when she saw eyes, belonging to men and women, linger on her as they passed by. Maya saw them look at her the way she had looked at beautiful women before - an alchemy of wonderment, envy, and desire brimming inside her veins.
Now that she had finished her basic package, Lindsey had emailed her last week about the phase two makeover service. This one included weight loss services, laser hair removal, and skincare consultation on fillers. She was shocked when she read that most college girls started filler treatments, in anticipation of wrinkles they might get down the road. Maya knew her fifty-five-year-old mother had never gone near a filler in her life, and would probably lose her mind if Maya brought up the idea of Botox to her. When she had first met with Lindsey, she never thought she would sign-up for this package. First of all, she couldn’t imagine a world where she had achieved the baseline of attractiveness that was assumed before you moved on to phase two. Practically, she didn’t think she could afford it without pulling more money out of her financial aid loans. She had archived Lindsey’s email to avoid the temptation of warming up to the idea.
Maya felt the air leaving her lungs as she looked at the photo glaring at her on her Instagram feed. The photo of her and five girls from her sorority on a boat was the stuff of beer commercials. Her friends, whose porcelain skin had been spray tanned to bronze, posed in tiny string bikinis, with their faces expertly angled to catch the sun’s rays. Their bodies gleamed in their perfection- flat stomachs and slender legs that never ended. And then there was Maya. She felt her face get hot as she saw how others must see her in the photo; the token fat friend. Her stomach looked like an overstuffed package in her bathing suit, a package no one was waiting for. She couldn’t even understand how her thighs could be so huge - splayed generously over the ledge she was sitting on. Her face while perfectly contoured with the makeup skills she had picked up, was shadowed by the bulge of a double chin. And then, as if for a final flourish, a halo of frizz stood atop her head. The frizz she thought she had won the battle over, in spending about an hour flattening her hair beyond recognition. But there it was, mocking her.
Maya threw her phone to the other side of the room and jumped under her covers. She put her face against her pillow and screamed into it. She screamed for all the way she had felt less than all her life. The yearning to be considered beautiful and wanted, stood so high in her throat that she felt she was choking. And with all the progress she thought she had made, it felt like she hadn’t made any at all. That fact was staring back at her in that photo - try as she might, she would never be one of those girls. The girls that were made to turn heads on the street. The girl who got the guy she wanted. The girls who would always be the version she dreamt she could be.
No, she wasn’t done yet. She got out of bed and strode with purpose to the other side of the room where her phone was lodged between the wall and her desk. Fishing it out with the fervor of a bounty hunter, she scrolled down her address book to the name that was her fairy godmother. It was time for phase two.