“Beauty is pain.”
BY ERICA GARZA
I don’t know your name, little girl, but I do know that I owe you an apology. I would have given you one in person, but I was feeling too ashamed. Do you know this word, shame? I hope you don’t. I hope you never do.
You must know why I was at the salon and the kind of work your mother does. I was wincing under her hands as she threaded the hair from my face, a painful and futile act of grooming—one that has cost too much money and too much pain for too many years. Of course, it’s just one way I spend money on my physical appearance. There’s also the monthly Brazilian wax, bi-weekly mani/pedi, bi-annual cut & color and various home kits for arm depilation, leg shaving, pit shaving, nose hair plucking, sideburn trimming, pore shrinking and more.
I was cringing, wishing the minutes away, when I noticed you smiling at me from the corner. She let you sit there and watch and I wondered: How many women have you seen threaded, waxed, and plucked on this same table? What is going on in your head?
I wish I knew.
You came closer at one point. You put your hand on mine. Thank you for your warmth, little girl. Please be proud of it. Please take care of it. Don’t ever let it seep out of you.
I felt embarrassed, so I attempted conversation.
“How old are you?” I asked.
Your mother answered for you. “Eight,” she said. “She’s eight.”
I tried to smile at you, but just then your mother gave another rip and I yelped.
“Beauty is pain,” she said, laughing. I laughed, too.
I laughed instead of doing all those things that feel more in line with who I am and what I believe and how I’m trying to live these days. I should have said, for your sake, and mine, too, “No, beauty is not pain. It doesn’t have to be. Not anymore.”
And I should have stood up, thanked your mother, and given you some sort of explanation.
Beauty can be a billion things. But let’s not make pain one of them. Beauty is the warmth of your compassionate gesture—your little hand on mine. Beauty is your smile from the other side of the room. Beauty is your curiosity. Beauty is all the things you want to be when you grow up.
Please don’t grow up thinking suffering is the only path to love. That's why I started going to salons. To become the better version of an already beautiful me. Because somewhere along the way, some nasty seed was planted in my head. And I watered that seed until it grew into shame.
I remember eight. I was a shy and quiet girl like you, but also so curious about the world. I daydreamed a lot about the places I’d see and the exciting things I’d do. I’d be a painter, a poet, a singer, an actress. I’d learn to sail. I’d go on safaris. I’d speak a dozen languages. I’d build a fort in a tree to be closer to the stars.
Then I turned nine and then ten, and then eleven. The dreams started to loosen. I shifted my gaze. From the sky to the T.V. From the thick books full of adventures to the shiny magazines full of lies.
I wish I knew your name, little girl, because one day you won’t be so little anymore. You will be a woman with challenges you can’t imagine now. But know that the eight-year-old girl still lives inside you, just as she still lives inside me. And she keeps dreaming. She keeps believing. She keeps waiting for you to come back.
Erica Garza's essays have appeared in Salon, Narratively, Alternet, BUST, Refinery29, Bustle, Vival, Mamamia, Role Reboot, Hello Giggles and The Los Angeles Review. She has contributed food reviews for the publications Maui Now and Brooklyn Exposed and worked as a copywriter for a digital marketing agency in Manhattan. In 2010, she earned her MFA in Creative Nonfiction at Columbia University and is now at work on her first book. Born in Los Angeles to Mexican parents, Erica has spent most of her adult life traveling and living abroad in such places as Florence, London, Berlin, Paris, Barcelona, Bogota, Bali, Bangkok, Koh Samui, Chennai, Melbourne and the island of Maui.