"Becoming Woman: An Essential Guide" by Julia Eldred

Each day I set out to become human. In the soft morning light, I stumble onto the whipped cream stool of my heartwood vanity. Admittedly, the piece of antique furniture is trying too hard with scrolls on the corners and ornate rosy carvings surrounding the mirror. At least my dad enjoyed restoring it last summer. He says it’s romantic. If he knew what went on in front of it every morning, he wouldn’t say the same. Kind of diminishes the magic.

I study my reflection. The first thing I see is my hair. You can’t miss it. The glossy chestnut waves ripple down as if trying to remember the curls painstakingly sculpted the day before. But there’s simply too much of it. It’s the kind of volume that droves of women trade their souls for, or purchase in bottles at the drugstore. On most days, I just draw it all up into a knot on my head—the universal symbol of surrender.

Next, I attend to my skin which is “Classic Porcelain” according to my shade of foundation. “Pallid Vampire” is a more apt descriptor. I have evidently never been touched by the sun. I cover blue veins visible through my translucent eyelids and the tired purple perpetually found beneath my eyes. Wrinkles and pores are filled in, blemishes erased. Any sign of life completely obliterated. I succeed every time. It’s easy with the canister of brushes in all shapes and sizes that sits on the vanity. The drawers are stocked with little glass bottles of cream, tiny plastic containers with screw on tops, and compacts that snap shut. Powder—that matches my skin, or leaves a sparkling sheen, or blushes my cheeks, or adjusts the shape of my face—is dusted on to construct my daily shield.

I have the wide, blue eyes of my mother, who is beautiful. But I don’t find mine nearly as bright. Goops and paints begin to give them definition. Deep shadows, dark lines, and feathery false eyelashes are applied. I take out the one pencil that perfectly matches my hair color and go to town on my eyebrows. The sperm-shaped trend of the early 2000s left them permanently disfigured. The smooth curves of my lips only result from toxic, nerve-deadening lip injections. Thank you, science. That doesn’t deplete the need for lip liner and lip stick. Don’t worry. I have another collection of bottles and tubes to choose from. One for every occasion.

Finally comes the lace, silk, nylon, satin, pearl, and gold to adorn my figure, mold it into a pleasing silhouette. I slip my feet into agonizing yet efficient stilettos. My sweet-smelling lotion isn’t enough. Better liberally apply a hundred-dollar scent of gardenia and lily of the valley from a gaudy glass bottle.

Now that I am human enough, I study myself rebuilt, defined, upgraded. The grander façade assembles. The foundation is sturdy, but there are some hairline cracks on the veneer. Like my double chin or the asymmetrical widths of my nostrils or how my tits could stand to grow a few sizes.

Nothing a little plastic surgery can’t fix.

Julia Eldred is an MFA candidate in fiction at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, PA. She is a Midwesterner at heart with a soft spot for the east coast having spent the first half of her life in Kenosha, WI and the second in Richmond, VA. Other than writing, Julia enjoys photography, building Spotify playlists, and visiting her sister’s farm in the hills of Blacksburg, VA.