First is strawberry milk. Your friend tells you it’ll grow your boobs. “It’s all the estrogen and shit,” she says, sipping on her third box. “You’ll have melons in a month.”
You’re both at a 7-Eleven after school. Late afternoon sun through the window warms the back of your neck, and you remember it’ll be summer, swimming pools and bikinis in Seoul soon, so you buy two boxes to start.
After a month, the milk only gives you a new cavity and an irrepressible sweet tooth.
The eyelash extensions come next. Your mother insists double eyelid tape “will improve the balance of your face,” but your clumsy fingers fumble with the sticky side too much. So you settle for extensions at a boutique where the heavyset man calls you ah-gah, baby, but only charges you one New Year’s worth of good fortune money. You coat your new lashes with the blackest mascara; the girls at school, with their eyelids pulled in by tape, gush over your doll-like appearance, call you “so pretty.” “So pretty” pours into you like slowly melting butter that fills you when you arrive home, “so pretty” restores your hope in a just world. “So pretty” wakes you the following morning with a breeze in your stomach that reaches your toes, and then you overhear the girls call you an alpaca in the school bathroom, the same girls with artificial creases who’d offered “so pretty” just yesterday.
The next morning, you look in the mirror, see the wayward tentacles your new lashes tangled themselves into overnight. You pluck off each extension until they’re all floating limply in the toilet. You flush with your eyes firmly shut.
You graduate from high school and finally get double eyelid surgery to celebrate. Your mother has saved for this moment, has already done the research on reputable clinics. The doctors say it’s just a thin strip of skin from your upper eyelid fixed to the edges to form the crease. Your mother says it’s an investment in your future, a smart decision. She squeezes your hand and you suddenly remember home videos of when you were a toddler, your mother’s face lighting up every time you touched the correct facial feature she named.
The swelling will take weeks to subside, they tell you afterward, so you invite over girls from your school who’ve had the surgery a few days before you, girls who had previously self-regulated with tape. When you open the door, six frogs stare back at you. You laugh, hysterically, fall-on-your-knees-in-tears hysterically. Oh, how the frog must envy the alpaca now.
A month later, the swelling has reduced enough that you decide to post a selfie, but you strategically include a bowl of steaming ramen in the photo with noodles twisted around chopsticks so you aren’t seeking validation but just sharing a relatable moment.
Your mother catches you. Calls you yeppuh, beautiful, which startles you, and then she remarks that ramen will give you fat hips.
The diets come after. For years. All backed by K-pop idols. Your waist shrinks through the banana diet, but you’re left with endless gas. When three blocks of tofu a day thins out your cheeks and slims your thighs, you almost start to welcome the constipation. The sweet potato diet fills you and brightens your complexion for a little bit, but there’s only so many ways you can cook it. One day, you add wasabi to your roasted potatoes. Your nose burns, and it is your most exciting meal.
The paper cup diet is laughable but also works the fastest. Each meal consists of a paper cup’s worth of rice, meat and vegetables. The portions are too restricting, however, and within two weeks, you’re dizzy and leaning against the wall during a shower. After a month, you slowly spin in front of a mirror, unable to find most of yourself. The thought bucks at your stomach, brings heat to your fingertips, tastes like salted caramel on your tongue.
You slim down enough. Enough to apply to big name companies that require candidates to attach their photos to their applications. Enough to hear back from said companies and ace the interviews, surpassing all the other women with artificial creases. Some who praised your Louis Vuitton purse and Jimmy Choo heels in the waiting room. A smart decision.
You are 27, and you and your date are undressing in your room. You met at a food stall near your workplace, him shoveling fish cakes into his mouth to relieve the day, and you, sipping only on the broth that they were dunked in. His button-up was a size too small, but his dimples were like little black holes, sucking you in every time he smiled.
His naked body stands across yours. You feel chilling anticipation at his gaze on your body and you want the moment to stretch out, but he quickly turns to your bed and you almost scream, no, look at me, you fucker, really look at me. You want him to look, to look at your eyes, look at your legs, look at all the places your most recent diet has rewarded you.
But his lips press against yours, he pushes and you both land on the bed. His body envelops yours.
“Goddamn,” he says, to no part of you in particular.