Deborah Emmanuel is a Singaporean writer, musician and actor. Her poetry has been heard at TEDx Singapore, The Singapore Writers Festival, the Bali Emerging Writers Festival and the Queensland Poetry Festival in Brisbane. Her first collection When I Giggle In My Sleep was published by Red Wheelbarrow Books early 2015. She is currently working on Rebel Rites, her second book.
The first time I realized people could look imperfect I was 11.
Mrs Chan said to the whole class
that I had a nice face but big bones.
I was muscle-encased track team bulk,
like the bear they made me in the kindergarten circus musical
because I wasn’t skinny enough to be a ballerina.
I would stand in front of the mirror
weighing each pound of fat with my stare
wishing I was a slender Chinese girl,
obsidian-crowned and delicate-nosed,
but my skin browned to mud under the sun
and my hair dreamt of dragons
so my grandmother slathered me in whitening cream
and my father leashed my beasts with coconut oil,
yet I was always a visual anomaly,
nobody wanted to look like me.
The first time I took my clothes off for money was 18.
For years people had been claiming I was a novelty,
this exotic wooly headed butterfly who should be in magazines.
My boss was a snake, squamous and sibilant,
hissing the word slut, whipping my wings with his tongue.
Why don’t you wear more makeup?
Have your breasts gone on holiday?
You should eat less Bak Chor Mee.
I had a Halloween nurse’s outfit, red, white and strappy.
When I put down my drink tray I would inevitably flash cheek
but for 25 dollars an hour in Singapore a little bum was nothing.
Then I danced in nightclubs.
The girl on the podium, tiny shorts, leather boots,
pumping, gyrating, pulsating groove,
a money-making sweat thrusting machine,
showering the crowd with my sex if they inserted attention.
I have sold myself for so long,
wrapped the body I hate in spandex and fed it to the wolves,
unpacked chunks of my flesh like hand outs for the rich.
I have served drinks in a bikini to eyes that untie strings as I walk away
bearing the blisters of 5 inch platforms and centuries of oppression.
I have scrubbed disgust from each surface to adorn ingratiation,
“You have a great ass” returned with a smile,
like the burden of sexualization is some kind of pride.
I have told so many lies,
hidden glowing shame in a hermetically sealed box,
swallowed the bile of self-hate to vomit easy bucks
but no more.
I will not feed the wolves any more.
I will not give the body I gained undeserved to keep objectification alive.
I will not supply misogyny with the fuel of my nakedness
or create commerce with my skin.
Enough creep at the gym when I’m unpaid to work out.
Enough ask if I’m single like I’m expected to be taken.
Enough don’t see perfection prescribed by hollow images on a screen,
by the airbrushed cheekbones of over-paid clones
wanting that unattainable thing
and I don’t know how my story ends,
because I like eyeliner, bracelets, and dresses with a bit of bling
but I know give me a bear suit and I’ll own it,
give me some mud to smear on my face and I’ll like it.
chop off my hair and I won’t give a fuck because
the beauty ideal was painted with classism and ethnocentric ignorance.
Our heads have been poisoned against other people’s outsides
with the vitriol of the first enslavers,
we are primed to judge our neighbour
by some unrealistic standard
invalid because we are all the same.
There is only imperfection.
But it’s hard to control my perception primed and prepared
with posters and pop culture so I’ll just see what I see
and remind myself that it doesn’t matter.
It’s the invisible parts of a person,
the glue that keeps them together.
Glue said I’m smarter than I look
with his smirking mouth,
Glue cackled she had bigger tits than mine
with a beer in her hand,
Glue grabbed my hair in a strobe-lit room with greasy fingers.
Glue gets messy, eats your breath,
hardens in places never clean again,
yet we obsess about the package
like contents don’t count.
Maybe you look at me and think I am imperfect.
Maybe you look at me and think I am ugly.
Maybe you look at me and think I am beautiful.