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Self-Portrait as Everything You’re Not

Blonde girls at school seek to become blonder. Blonde girls arrive with new highlights, preening at the way their faces are framed by golden honey. Blonde girls say, “I put sun in,” and blonde girls ooh and ahh. Blonde girls coo and comfort when the results are less than ideal: chunky streaks of orange hidden by hoodies, tracks of mascara announcing tragedy. Blonde girls pass the bottle around so everyone can get a good spray in but pause when they reach Asian-black hair with Irish-sea waves, and regard the possibility cockeyed. Blonde girls say, “Maybe not you.” Blonde girls say, “Won’t you look weird?” Blonde girls say, “Maybe your leg hair though, if your mom really won’t let you shave it.” Blonde girls spritz Sun-In generous and slick on brown legs and march them out into the courtyard at lunchtime. Blonde girls say, “Lie down in the sun for fifteen minutes and then turn over for another fifteen.” Blonde girls say, “Let’s try bleach next time.” Blonde girls say, “Oh, I wish I could get your tan.”

Blonde girls asleep under the bed. Blonde girls waited patiently on the shelf in a line of hot pink boxes for someone’s mother to pick them out and make them some blonde girl’s best friend. Blonde girls landed here instead, where they were dismembered and disfigured, parts sorted into four shoeboxes and secreted away. Blonde girls’ limbs all a-jumble in one box, feet forever en pointe, awaiting the relief of slipping into heels. Blonde girls’ torsos piled up high in another, scars in the shape of toothmarks littering their chests where their tits used to be. Blonde girls’ heads lolling together, shorn close to their plasticine scalps until they resembled beleaguered electroshock patients. Blonde hair filling its box to the brim, taken out to be stroked and savored until it tangled into anxious knots too ruined to salvage. Blonde girls, good girls, punished for being exactly as they were made.

Blonde girls as yearly gifts, no matter how lukewarm their reception. Blonde girls as ceramic statuettes bearing gilded numbers for every age, liberated from a Hallmark box as an old cassette warbles out “happy birthday” in Thai-accented English. Blonde girls when there are Black girls in the same boxes, the same dresses, the same poses at the same stores. Blonde girls because, “You’re not Black.” Blonde girls because, “You’re half white.” Blonde girls ever-multiplying, their averted gazes, open palms, and tilted heads singing their submission to anyone who might wish to gaze upon them. Blonde girls knocked over by brown limbs flailing in the night. Blonde girls with arms broken off and numbers chipped and heads knocked clean into the oblivion of the bedroom mess. Blonde girls put back to rights every morning by long-suffering Ma. Blonde girls starring in “self-portrait as everything you’re not.” Blonde girls rendered brunette boys in dresses by the magic of Sculpey clay. Blonde girls dubbed, “Lucky Pierre, best of both worlds.”

Brown girl in the mirror, brown boy behind the eyes. Brown girl lifts the shears and brown boy emerges from under hair falling like ashes. Brown girl with the electric razor, brown boy with the nice round skull and the stubble sharp as sunlight. Brown girl with chemical burns melting a Dali painting into each leg, brown boy with triumphant battle scars. Brown girl gathers all the hair up and unearths the old Barbie hair box. Brown boy sinks hands into the soft flaxen mess of it one last time.

Jasmine Sawers is a Kundiman fellow and graduate of Indiana University’s MFA program whose work appears in such journals as Ploughshares, AAWW’s The Margins, SmokeLong Quarterly, and more. Sawers serves as Associate Fiction Editor for Fairy Tale Review and debuts a collection of flash through Rose Metal Press in 2022. Originally from Buffalo, Sawers now lives and pets dogs outside St. Louis. Learn more at jasminesawers.com and Twitter @sawers.

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