I was thinking a lot about beauty when I was fifteen, the day I stood on the porch without
my headscarf on. I let my hair breathe in the open autumn air, feeling the softness tickling my
shoulders. A couple walking their dog passed our house and when they smiled at me I smiled
back and waved, waiting to feel pretty, a caterpillar finally growing her wings. The couple and
their dog rounded the corner, and I waited and waited. The wings did finally begin to grow, but
when I saw myself in the window, I was a moth, not a butterfly. I scurried for the safety of home,
but even inside with the front door locked, I felt for the first time, truly ugly.
I was thinking about beauty when I was seventeen, on my first day of college, covered
from head to toe in a traditional black gown, an abaya. I was finally prepared to be really, truly
myself. I was a veteran of the high school war of identity, and I’d come out of it barely
recognizable and more confused than I’d been than when I’d started. I had decided after
graduation to abandon the jeans and tights to finally accept my Muslim identity, to dress like the girls I saw in the Islamic fashion magazines. Their chins were held high, hair wrapped in chiffon, with their gowns trailing the floor elegantly. At the end of that first long impossible day, I fell onto my creaky dorm room bed and cried for half an hour, wrapped in my abaya and black
headscarf like a corpse in a shroud.
I have to think of beauty every morning, because no matter how tired I am, no matter
how hot or humid it is outside, I wrap a meter of fabric on my head and force myself to make myfaith bigger than my vanity. I frown. I turn to the side. I fluff and smooth and straighten, and I
stare at myself for a few seconds in the mirror and make myself think of strength and dignity.
Think of things bigger than myself. Like a student in an English lit class, I peel back the layers of
symbolism in the fabric and try to find the beauty hiding underneath, and pray that others find ittoo. I delicately pin the scarf in place. Pretty? Maybe. Beautiful? Always.
Fatima Khan is a sophomore majoring in English and Biology. She says, “You’ve likely
seen me behind the marketing front desk, or sitting on a campus sofa, taking a nap. If it’s
the former, say hi! If I’m asleep, wake me, I’m probably late.” She won Best Short Story
in this issue.