Beauty is a crude but powerful thing. Over time, women have adapted to its changing state, learned to mould their appearance to something new, something explicitly refined. They perch their derrieres on the plush seats of makeup counters, languidly bustle around overpriced department stores and perfumeries. All in the hunt for the perfect face.
One half of the human race competes to master a craft that, like beauty, does not come naturally to everyone. The intense desire to become the apple itself, rather than the eye. To become the beheld rather than the beholder. The portrait rather than the painter.
In short, to become something they are not.
Twenty stories high in a meticulous apartment building, Susan dabs clear balm onto her lips. Paper thin, like her body, they are the only outward sign of her hidden severity. A single coat of mascara is more than enough.
She makes a mental note to give the bathroom a thorough cleaning when she gets home and moisturises her face again. The smell of cold cream makes her want to gag. Running a brush through her mousey tresses, she waves goodbye to the nanny as she slams the door. She has no time for frivolity. She is a serious woman.
Halfway across the city, 15 year old Lauren is in the girls’ lavatory. It is 3:55. School is officially over. She steps out of the tiny cubicle and hikes up her skirt. It has magical powers- it has transformed into a belt. Her brassiere is bursting at the straps as bits of tissue paper poke their crumpled faces out. A curtain of thick, lustrous hair covers her eyes like a mask as she bends her upper body to pull the knee-high socks up to her thighs.
With a wicked gleam in her eye, Lauren parts her lips and arches her back as she hovers over the sink to get a closer look in the mirror. Preening herself like a bird of paradise, her cherubic lips are stained incarnadine. She is no longer an under-aged girl in a uniform. She is a vixen.
On 23rd Oakwood Street, parked on a small corner under a bush of trees, there is an unfurnished apartment building. Forlorn and abandoned, strangers walk their dogs and push their prams past this corner routinely, without a minute’s thought about the building across from them or the woman inside it.
Violet is not blind to what makes something beautiful, but people are blind to her. Out of her makeup box, she pulls a large jar of acrylic paint and slabs it onto the base of her arm. Vigorously, she blends and rubs and pats it into place, leaving no streaks or protuberances. Systematically, she massages it into her neck, arms and ankles, the only bits of skin on show. The ones she chooses to make visible.
At this point, she looks naked and colourless. She continues with her process.
Snapping up a clean new bristle brush, she dips it into a pot of rich oil paint and swirls it around violently, feeling the texture in her bones. Without hesitation, she tries not to wince as she colours in her iris, adding specks of green and gold to match the blue.
Only when her rosebud lips take shape and her nose takes form does she staple a long, fair wig to her scalp, propping it in place and turning it on both sides to make it even. She covers her body in fabric. It takes her a while to choose what type, but she settles on dark blue silk. The contrast with her hair will be striking, but it will be demure enough to fit in.
She stares into her reflection with a knowing eye and begins her day.
While most other women, young and old, try to make themselves noticed, she has to settle for making herself visible.
At 6:45, Violet traipses back into that room with a flourish and a rather devastated air, ready to undo her ephemeral masterpiece. With a sigh of relief she wallows in her translucency. Comfortable in her invisible state, she can be herself again.
“Perfect,” she says to no one in particular.