A Life of One's Own

Isyana Artharini's A Life of One’s Own is about everything that happens after you
have the money and your own room to write fiction — mainly through essays about (not) dating,
owning things, traveling and eating for one, skincare, body image, loneliness, and seeing
yourself through arts you have consumed.

welcome home, starling

you are safe now

How to Take Care of Blackheads

How to Take Care of Blackheads

My first memory of impurity came after spending time with a former lover, in a hotel room, swathed and tangled in layers of sheets that still managed to trap some coolness from the blasting air conditioner.

We scrutinised each other’s faces and bodies, committing it to memory, and searching for proof of intention or meaning or promises that later on wouldn’t be fulfilled.

I am old enough to never think about the notion that spending time intimately with a guy would make me less pure, less pristine, but what he pointed out made me cringe.

“You have… a moustache!” he said while laughing and touching one corner of my mouth where the said hair resides.

“I… don’t,” was my weak and boring response, while shrugging off his finger, hoping he’ll see less of my facial hair.

“Yes, you do,” he said again, bringing his index finger again to the same place on my face, from where I had swatted his hands away a few seconds before.

He continued to tease me for the next few minutes. I wish he’d stop.

As a woman, you are the first person to thoroughly check your own flaws and weaknesses and strong points in your body.

It was a landscape, a territory, almost like a country.

Not only can you use it as a way to charm, but also to recognise where you need to put up your defences whenever someone is aiming at it. And as a woman, you realise fairly quickly at a young age, that someone is almost always aiming for parts of your body, be it in mockery or flattery.

But as he aimed at my moustache, I was caught off guard.

I realise it exists, but not so much that it became a part of my identity like it did for some girls. In that area, I figured I was safe, covered, because there are other parts of my body that I need to put my guard up (arms, thighs, butt).

Some people said a moustache would make girls cuter, but in the middle of this teasing, I wasn’t assured of it.

The teasing reminded me of the first time I was reading The Great Gatsby, that the reason Nick Carraway couldn’t get serious with Jordan Baker is because he could never get the memory of her upper lip perspiration out of his mind.

I was around half my current age when I read it.

At that time I couldn’t see that, maybe, Nick was a bit in love with Daisy himself, or that Jordan was morally questionable or, maybe, Nick was just a bit slow.

But I remember reading that and afterwards, never forget to check and wipe my upper lip perspiration every 10 minutes. Until it got too tiring and I got more important things to do.

The memory of that sensation of awkwardness from The Great Gatsby was buried until that day, when a lover pointed out my moustache. He was the first person to do so after three decades of my life.

I used to have sideburns, which I’m proud of, which mysteriously went away in my teen years, to my and my dad’s dismay.

I used to have fairly thick eyebrows, that in a moment of misjudged trust, I had allowed a former colleague to pluck it, making it look, as my mom said, “like a rat’s tail”.

My eyebrows never recovered.

But my ex-boyfriend pointing out my moustache made me realise its existence and, over time, helped neutralise my feelings towards it.

Apparently my body is a landscape or a territory littered with land mines.

As I grew to become indifferent towards my moustache, I chose to not do anything about it. It’s still there, through thick and thin, depending on who you ask.

Yet, during the years after that, I paid closer attention to my face.

My former boyfriend was right about its existence, but I found other things that he didn’t mention, such as the skin discolouration around the chin which, I later found out, was a common thing for people with my skin tone.

I came to realise the existence of pores, and I’ve become obsessed in making it void of blackheads.

Ever since I hit puberty, I realised that the promise of beauty products to lighten your skin was basically a lie, but that didn’t stop me in believing everything else they promised me.

I would read countless beauty blogs and reviews in trying to search for products that would enable me to pull out the gunk lodged in my pores, smooth out the surface of my skin, lighten my dark spots, even out my skin tone, and keep my acne at bay.

From regular scrub beads, to grains of baking soda, to coconut oil and jojoba oil and rosehip and tamanu oil and tea tree essence, to clay masks; whenever I read a review of every product promising to take out dirt stuck in my pores, my heart would beat a little faster as I knew I must try it but also knew it would cost me money.

Money that I didn’t mind parting from nor count its loss.

In the midst of this mania, and from having all the time to myself, I was able to develop an elaborate five to seven steps face cleansing routine.

First goes the lip and eye makeup, and then the double cleansing, the toner comes after, and moisturiser followed by facial oils as your dessert.

The odd places in which I find satisfaction from solitude surprise me. And I didn’t realise this regimen as a complete satisfaction of its own until someone questioned it.

It was another guy who stayed over, who saw me cleansing my face.

Out of self-consciousness, from my elaborate five steps, I’ve simplified it to three basic steps of cleansing and moisturising.

Even then he said, “Your routine is kind of too much, don’t you think?”

This was after I shared some of my pasta and my bed space with him.

Right there and then, I realised, this nightly ritual of getting the day’s dirt out of my face was not merely skin deep.

It had become a way for me to properly care for my emotional well-being. One that I have preferred more and more over the presence of mediocre company.

Of course, it’s easy to remember this when I was alone and uncoupled. But then there are times when I was in love and the thrill of being with someone else made me lose myself. That I would soon forget and discard nearly all routines —books, skincare, gym — to spend more time with this person.

At least, until we had our first argument as a couple and I started to become disillusioned by the promise of our relationship.

In my case, it started with me questioning him on why he was asking me for small sums of money, money that was part of his expenses anyway and that he should be able to afford himself.

“You did tell me you don’t make much, but don’t you have money of your own? I’m not your ATM.”

“If I was only looking for money, I wouldn’t have to stick with someone who is so clueless in bed.”

I knew I wanted him out of my place right there and then, but I was so stunned I couldn’t speak.

My eyes were hot. There were one hundred bees inside my chest.

I have never felt more humiliated in my life but the only response I was able to manage was to get up from the bed and went to the bathroom.

In front of my sink, surrounded with tubes and bottles of scrubs and facial cleansers, I started my routine.

The oil cleanser was first, it would dissolve all my makeup and impurities and hopefully my sadness too. I wet my hands and massaged my face and neck. The oil, reacting to the water, turned greyish and soapy so I can wash it away.

And then it was the foaming cleanser. I took time in lathering the foam and massaging it on my face. After washing off the suds, I buried my face in a clean towel specially for my face.

I am an adult who owns a clean face towel for my nightly skincare ritual, I thought, and I took a deep breath.

Then I moved to my vanity, where I kept all my eyeshadow palettes, and blushes, and lipsticks, but also different shapes of bottles of toners, moisturisers, sunscreen, serums, and exfoliants.

The exfoliant went first, and then the hydrating toner on top of it, then the serum to erase the dark spots, and lastly, the facial oil with its hint of cinnamon and lemongrass for extra moisture.

I breathed all of it in and my mind and body was then collected at the same place, the same spot.

I went back to bed with my then boyfriend still awake beside me.

I wish I was able to say we broke up that night, but instead, it was five days later.

 

Photo Credit: eltpics via Compfight cc. Edited by Murmur.

The Spectacle of the Self

The Spectacle of the Self