Dirty Girl

April 27, 2024

Embrace me for what I am, not what I curate myself to be.

Vines curl around the iron bars of my cage, organic spirals strangling the metal. Roots sprout from below, breaking apart the cool foundation with the strength of my growth.

There’s a person-shaped hole in the clutter on my bed. The four walls of my room curtain me off from the outside world, forming a protective screen to shield their eyes from my wasting. Dirty clothes loom over the winding path to the bathroom. I weave my way through discarded jeans and bath towels, deciding for once to face myself in the mirror. Examining my reflection, I feel a strange excitement at the deepening purple circles under my eyes, at the sunless pallor of my cheeks. I turn this way and that, imagining the way I would draw eyes on the street.

What’s going on with her? Is she okay? All press is good press.

My toothpaste has become offensive. The sharpness of the mint seems sensationalized, trying too hard. I glare at my hoard of personal care products, spiting them for their mocking insinuations. Each bottle on my bathroom counter points to something about me that needs to change, but I am no ship of Theseus; I was born fully made. I don’t understand why I need to scrape layers off one by one, revealing something new and baby pink underneath. Let me be enough.

Humans compound chemicals into creams and then glance at you longways when you don’t hand over your money. Billion-dollar industries run on the marketability of insecurity. Even grunginess has been commodified into something to be sold. I long to escape into something real, but it seems impossible. All roads lead back to the public eye. If authenticity exists, I pledge myself to its chase. I want to wear my scars and bumps as badges of honor. I want to run down the street barefoot, turning my heels tar-black. I want to remove myself from that which humanity has constructed and exist in a completely unmanufactured state. I want to be dirty, and to love myself for it.

Forfeit self-editing ­– remember that nature already sculpted you.

The trickle of a brook tickles my toes, pebbles slide and mold to the contours of my step. I hope there are worms wriggling under me, that life thrives where no one thinks it would. I scrape my foot on a particularly sharp rock and watch as my blood intertwines with the currents of the stream. I watch as the patch of scarlet diffuses into the surrounding water; a part of me will now forever be with this river, skipping along the stones. Grabbing onto the trembling branches above me, I drag myself from the stream. The sun dries the spots of mud that splatter my bare chest. I feel no different than the tree trunks I pass, than the silt that slips under my feet. Decades of history adorn them as they adorn me, and I celebrate the dirt that lies under my fingernails.

Out here, when I crawl with the insects and sway with the leaves, I feel the absence of eyes like a second skin. No one watches me save the stars glittering from above. My muscles twist and flex of their own accord, without apprehension. It’s a sweet, sweet release.

I have always wondered why humanity insists on playing God. Have we never considered that we are the weeds bursting through nature’s design? We see ourselves as perching atop nature’s creation, never acknowledging our deeply integrated part in the world we destroy. The human body was constructed meticulously over millennia, each and every part of us arriving through some biological necessity. If authenticity is what I chase, nature must be where I begin.

I hereby choose to let myself run according to my celestial programming. I let hair sprout from my legs and sigh in relief — I have been cold for so long. I stand in the sun and let its rays brown my nose and pink my cheeks. Sweat dries in sticky patches across my skin, yet still I laugh at my ability to run. I examine my bone structure with the palm of my hand — my hooked nose, my sharp jaw, and appreciate that I am the culmination of hundreds of generations. My ancestors suffered, longed, grew, and broke for me to exist the way I do. I am electing to live in the body they created for me, the way it was built to be.

Finally opened and disentangled, do you love what you see?

I unfurl my limbs no earlier than noon. Undulating in last night’s clothes, I wake up bit by bit, opening my mascara-bound eyes last. I roll over, meeting myself in the black reflection of my phone, attempting to reassemble my mind and my body. I feel echoes of life lingering like kisses on my skin. Maybe it’s the mussed hair, or the sweat-damp tank top, but I feel somehow more beautiful than I did last night, lying here bare-legged in stark morning light. The black smudges under my eyes are precious; my experience has left its traces on me. Of course, I savor that.

When I see myself lit by black light, or sense that I am covered in the smell of another, I wonder why banality was ever considered beautiful. It revolts me, frankly, the way purity creates allure. Authenticity has been left somewhere far in the past, far from the realm of eroticism.

As for me, I have come to terms with the fact that I was not born sexy yesterday. I want you to feel each of my seven thousand and eighty-one days as you slide your hand across my back. Time has not left me untouched. Dust me for his fingerprints, I’m covered. Measure your handprint against those already carved into my skin. Embrace me for what I am, not what I curated myself to be. I will be real whether it pleases your eye or not.

Dirtiness has much less to do with externality than with freedom. Many try desperately to look as if they don’t care but come off cloying. Authenticity cannot be cherry-picked; that’s why it’s so rare. To be real, you must simply be. There is no rhyme or reason, no methodology. Even the smallest application of energy mars its facade. Letting go, allowing the rivers of time to pass over me without impediment, has set me on the path towards reaching that impossible, unconscious place. I walk alone, barefoot, clawing my way towards a simple existence.

Eden had no gardener. I let myself grow. 

Layout: Binny Bae
Photographer: Reyna Dews
Videographer: Belton Gaar
Stylists: Sonia Siddiqui & Mimo Gorman
Set Stylist: Yousuf Khan
HMUA: Jaycee Jamison & Xavier Williams
Models: Melat Woldu & Jordyn Jackson

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