andre barnwell & cora-lee conway
original art by andre barnwell paired with the short story it inspired by cora-lee conway
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Conway's full text on body image, high school, and race:
"I just looked straight ahead.
I fixed my gaze on something I couldn’t see but I focused on this fiction to keep from crying. I stared so hard my eyes burned. And in the process, that fixation on fiction, the imaginary receptacle of my gaze swallowed up all that hurt me and the rage dissipated into peace. It was quiet now and all I heard were the reassuring mantras of mindfulness that kept my tears at bay. They are sad phrases I say to remind myself of the things I should already know, believe and feel. They are sad phrases that I must say to myself to counteract all the forces in the world that express otherwise.
I walked out of the bathroom stall and kept my eyes on my reflection in the mirror. I could see the two women from the corner of my eye. Their shock, shame and simultaneous disdain were palpable. Their disgusting gossip hung in the air:
“She’s so dark. I wouldn’t wear those bold colored lipsticks.”
“Ha! Her ass is beyond big, it’s obscene.”
“I don’t know who she thinks she is…”
The truth is, I didn’t know either, but I don’t think I had the same opportunity, the freedom, the space to figure it out. I have been developing my sense of self in opposition to and as a result of all that is believed about the me I have yet to become.
I focused and stopped looking past myself to really see the reflection in the mirror. I felt small and as I stared at myself I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes again. I didn’t want things to be this hard, knowing that the mere image of me, my face and body could conjure such visceral hatred and ugliness. It’s hard not to take it personal. The women awkwardly hustled out of the bathroom and I was left alone to sit in the discomfort they had created for me.
I just looked straight ahead.
I just looked straight ahead, fixated on a fiction that I was fine and unfettered by all of this. I took a moment to appreciate all of the features on my face, the soft slope of my forehead, the height of my cheekbones, the symmetry of my thick eyebrows and the depth of colour in my eyes. I let the thick soapy lather on my hands rinse down the drain and tried to let the bad feelings follow."
Word and Colour, 2017