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  • A Brief History of Beauty
  • Nina Sharma (bio)

"Don't tell anyone, but the boys in school tease me for my mustache," said my nine-year-old niece.

"I'm sorry. You know that just means they are insecure."

"Oh. Well then I feel bad for them."

"Did you tell your parents?"

"If I tell them, they will say wax it. I don't want to. Did it ever happen to you?"

"Yes, boys and girls. And you know what, those same boys would ask me out on dates years later."

"Did you go?"


"That's good."

I lied. Those boys didn't ask me out. Long after the blond girl stopped taunting "Amazon woman" at my eleven-year-old hairy legs, thick pubic, armpit, and upper-lip hair in the shower after gym, long after I started going to the waxing lady working out of the back of a sari shop and then to the many others waxers and waxing parlors that cropped up in my town afterwards, the boys didn't ask me out.

I lived the kind of life I imagined I was supposed to live. Not the life of the ugly, but of the not-as-beautiful. I was the funny one. The thinker. The one generous with money, time, and patience, infinite patience for white suburban teens especially.

At home, my father would twist his face so it lost all symmetry. The lips a disheveled pout, one eyebrow slanting up and the other down, head cocked to the side. He put on a gruff voice.

This was my mother. This was how he saw his wife. [End Page 221]

Sometimes there was no twisted face. There was just him watching some movie with a pretty woman saying, "I should have married a woman like that, not you."

I would let out a laugh—a full-throated "Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman" type of cackle, an unabashed laugh, a sexy laugh, a laugh like my life depended on it.


When I was a toddler, my older sisters lined me up with stuffed animals, placing me in the center. "We'd pretend you were our doll."


At twelve I began to go to a child psychiatrist, I was worried about what was real and what was a picture—scared of movie monsters in particular. I just wanted to cry. My father drove me home. "You are like the story of the ugly duckling," he said to comfort me.


For my thirteenth birthday, the blond girl who called me "Amazon woman" bought me lingerie, a see-through maroon Calvin Klein bra-and-panty set. She demanded to know which boy I liked.

I was reluctant to tell her about the boy. It was not a secret as much as it was an issue of permission. Am I allowed to be that kind of girl? The one with a romance life, with a body?

That blond girl would grow all of her hair out, dye her hair blue, and begin to ardently follow white-boy-hippie-bands like Phish.


I wore a low-cut dress from a vintage shop to junior prom. I loved myself in it. Next year, the white girls would take me shopping at Macy's, where they'd find me a "proper gown," as they put it.

A white boy reluctantly took me to senior prom. I was going to go alone; our friends suggested we pair up. We dated through my first year of college.


"Who do you love more, him or me?" my father demanded once over the phone. I burst into tears; he just yelled the question louder. "Who do you love more, him or me?"


At the start of my sophomore year, I had a manic break. I walked around campus for twenty-four hours straight asking questions and expressing worries to any passing stranger. My mom drove me back to New Jersey [End Page 222] from Rhode Island. "Where are we going?" I asked when I saw her turning off of the expected route. We were going to the salon. I had not slept in days and the last shower I took was...


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