“And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; and the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, ‘This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’”
- Genesis 2, 21-23 King James Version
Eve rolled the apple between her palms, enjoying the cool waxiness of its skin. She could still feel the heat of the serpent where it had slithered across her thighs – a funny thing, that. Weren’t serpents cold-blooded? She clenched the apple, hard enough to strain her knuckles, hard enough to bruise the flesh. Last night, Adam had squeezed her upper arms just so. Bone of my bones. She thought of Lilith, as she did more and more often these days. WWLD - What Would Lilith Do? But then, she wasn’t brave or strong, like Lilith, Mother of Demons, Queen of the Night. Some women are just made of sterner dust. Flesh of my flesh. Not all women can be witches. Some of us have just have to take the fruits God gives us. Make applesauce. Make choices. Funny thing, about free will. She knew that Adam wouldn’t understand what mortality meant, or see the appeal. She would have to explain it to him. See you on the other side, Lili.
“Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?”
– Maya Angelou, “Still, I Rise”
My boyfriend thinks that beauty culture is oppressive to women. We debated it over brunch the morning after I climbed on top of him and thrust my cock into his mouth until I almost came. Since I am now a woman, I wonder if this can be considered heterosexual sex. He says that the net effect of beauty – buying clothing, applying make-up, “doing” hair, nails, dieting, toning, tanning, tucking, sucking in, taking out, clipping, plucking, exfoliating, epilating, waxing – is to create unhealthy competition between women to sell their bodies to men. Beauty is capitalism is patriarchy writ on body. He isn’t wrong, of course. He just isn’t a woman. I don’t think that beauty is exclusively applied to women, but I do think that it is intrinsic to the concept of femininity, in the same way that giving birth and motherhood are. That is to say, we can conceive of a ‘normal’ masculinity that is not beautiful, that does not have or raise children; but a femininity that is ugly, that is sterile, that rejects motherhood is automatically assumed to be abnormal, undesirable – monstrous. Funny, how that which oppresses us is so often exactly that which we long for. Like motherhood. Like men.
Medusa lies on the floor of the temple of Athena, Goddess of Wisdom. Earlier that night, Poseidon, the King of the Sea, forced himself on her as she clung to the altar. She was so beautiful, he just couldn’t help himself. She shouldn’t have been walking by the beach alone at night in such skimpy clothing. She is bleeding from between her legs, a slowly spreading pool of red innocence. She cannot believe that this is happening. She feels dirty, feels soiled, feels ashamed. She had always been so proud of her beauty, her sexuality, which her older sisters always said gave her power over men. Did she enjoy it, somewhere, deep inside? Maybe that’s why she’s being punished, being cursed even now by Athena, for defiling the altar, defiling herself. She feels her skin hardening into scales, her fingers into claws. The flesh on her face begins to run, like molten wax. Her hair is starting to move.
It does not matter that you are no longer beautiful,
whisper the snakes
your beauty did not protect you,
as they lick the blood from her face.
It does not matter that you have lost your suitors,
Being desired did not protect you.
“Because we all do it. We all run from the ugly. And the farther we run from it, the more we stigmatize it and the more power we give beauty. Our communities are obsessed with being beautiful and gorgeous and hot. What would it mean if we were ugly? What would it mean if we didn’t run from our own ugliness or each other’s? How do we take the sting out of “ugly?” What would it mean to acknowledge our ugliness for all it has given us, how it has shaped our brilliance and taught us about how we never want to make anyone else feel? What would it take for us to be able to risk being ugly, in whatever that means for us? What would happen if we stopped apologizing for our ugly, stopped being ashamed of it?”
- Mia Mingus, “Moving Toward the Ugly: A Politic Beyond Desirability”
It is late morning, and the sun is still too bright for my hangover as we sit in the political discussion circle for Indigenous and racialized femmes. The question we are discussing is, Can beauty be revolutionary? Or is trying to be beautiful submission to the patriarchy? My headache pounds. I am wearing a form-fitting white dress cut to show a generous amount of thigh and embroidered with tiny sequined flowers. My eyes are outlined in sapphire blue. The first time I put on makeup as a child, I was beaten for being a faggot. The first time I wore a dress in public, a man confronted me on the street and threatened to show me the colour of my blood. Men are terrified of beauty, so much so that they want to kill it, eat it, skin it like a fox. Beauty is so dangerous to men, it drives them mad with violence and terror. Tell that to your femmes: this is revolutionary.
You are unnatural. Your body is unnatural. Never let anyone try to convince you otherwise. Someone made you. Something made you. Something is making and unmaking you in this very moment: you are mutant, machine, assemblage, cyborg, a mashup, mistake, so much more than Grand Design. Embrace the minotaur, the mermaid, all things half-wise and part-way. Always keep adding to your misfit parts. Release the natural, the normal, the stagnant, the stuck. There is something unbridled and beautiful about becoming a beast.
“Monsters exist in the margins. They are thus avatars of chance, impurity, heterodoxy; abomination, mutation, metamorphosis; prodigy, mystery, marvel. Monsters are indicators of epistemic shifts.”
– Allen S. Weiss, “Ten Theses on Monsters and Monstrosity”
My grandmother was a raving madwoman and a ravenous witch. She beat her children and ate their souls in a stew. My mother’s skin was made of rock. Every time she held me, she left bruises. They did their best with the bodies life gave them. You do what you have to in order to survive. I learned my femininity from crazies and crones. At my brightest, I am a hag, hair wild beneath the sky. I made a deal with a doctor to get my heart’s desire. The medications they gave me made me beautiful, made me sterile. Everything on this earth requires sacrifice. Listen closely! I am speaking to you from deep within the crevices of your body. You are an untold universe of creation, of divinity, of devilry. You can be anything you want, for a price. You have spent this whole time lost in a hall of mirrors and you have never even once really looked at yourself. Open your eyes. See the glory of the thing you’ve become.
Kai Cheng Thom
Jumpsuit from American Apparel, Wide Leg Pants from WRKDEPT, all other clothing from thrifting
Photography: Võ Thiên Việt
Concept and Writing: Kai Cheng Thom
Artistic Direction: Sam Lu