doll /däl/ n. 1. A small model of a human figure, often one of a baby or girl, used as a child’s toy. 

As a child my grandmother would occasionally gift me porcelain dolls. After the initial unwrapping, they sat dotted around the dusty corners of a room no one ever entered. Their flawless, tiny faces staring into the darkness. Their perpetual smiles sending joy to the shadows. I kept only one in my room, next to my dresser. I was instructed to keep it there at the behest of my father in the ever-present effort to appease my grandmother. I didn’t like dolls—I still don’t.

I am thirteen. It has been two years since the dolls stopped coming. Sometimes I stare at the one doll in my room, just to see how I measure up. In some ways those dolls look like my friends, flawless skin, a delicate smile, and pristine feminine features. In all ways they look nothing like me. I try very hard not to care. I distract myself with imaginary worlds and fantasies, anything to avoid the piercing gaze of that doll and the realities I find in the mirror.

In an embarrassed frenzy I ask my mother for some make-up. She is thrilled. Finally I am interested in something she can relate to; I have broken the silence and addressed the taboo I have been avoiding for two years. She pulls out the dusty black bag of forgotten products I had received two Christmases ago. Inside lay numerous foreign objects that I am determined to master.

I am the middle child at this point. Two other sisters. My older sister, Courtney, has already graduated to smearing vibrant purple pigments around her bright, blue eyes. Everyone assures me she is beautiful, they say she inherited the “Mountain genes.” The younger one is five or so. Her cherub face and gapped smile elicits awes and pinched cheeks from our relatives. I am told she is the cutest thing.

I take my arsenal to my room. I don’t want anyone to see the process. I sit in front of the giant white mirror mounted on my dresser. Little knick-knacks and trinkets litter the surface of the cool wood. I push them aside. On the floor beside the hulking structure rests a miniature pink canopy bed. A young, perfect face stares out at me through the curtains. Her cherry tinted smile taunts me and her blue eyes stare out, unblinking, from under a lush curtain of fluttery ebony eyelashes. I sigh as I remember the day she was stationed to watch me. My grandmother had commented how nice she would look next to my dresser sealing my fate and failing to see the panic in my face; my grandfather had given me a sympathetic look with full, knowing eyes and flashed me a mischievous smile.

I look behind me to try to catch a glimpse of that soothing smile. I want the comfort and the reassurance that I do not need to do this, but it is just a wisp of a past life, a part of the family that has since gone and forgotten me. I turn back to the mirror, my resolve renewed. There is a thick, oily smudge on the otherwise pristine surface; it covers both eyes and streaks across my cheek. Somehow I know my reflection looks better this way. I wipe away the smudge but I do not look at what has replaced it.

Foundation seems like the place to start. The logic in the name seemed too obvious to ignore. Natural Buff, light to medium, Shade 03 is printed on the back. A glob of cool, slimy liquid snakes out of the bottle. My tentative first strokes gain more assurance as I contemplate the name.

Natural Buff? The liquid warms as I play with it. This seems anything but natural. I smear two lines on each cheek, imagining I am drawing on war paint. And buff? What does that even mean? Gooey, flesh-colored lines appear down my chin and nose. This is really weird. The redness begins to disappear.

I move onto a similarly colored powder. The little white pad inside isn’t as fluffy as the ones I had seen in movies, but I figure it will still work. The pressed powder breaks beneath the force I emit. A cloud of tannish dust erupts from the place where I smack the puff against my nose.

The little bits of red and insecurity that had escaped the foundation’s assault had not withstood the dust storm. I have clear skin—my chest starts to fill, a warmth spreads across my cheeks. I can feel it expanding underneath my new mask. My teeth peak out from hiding, the corners of my mouth turn up ever so slightly. I can begin to see the girl I want to be

The rest of the routine moves pretty quickly. Blush seems stupid and unnecessary, so I skip it. I couldn’t figure out where to put the smudgy black pencil so I rub out my mistakes the best I can and move on to mascara. The viscous black tar that comes out of the pink and green tube gloms onto my eyelashes. After rigorous combing they are stretched out and up. I send a smirk to the frozen child in the canopy at my feet after I see the results. We are the same now.

The pale girl with the pretty brown eyes staring back at me does not look familiar. No… she looks straight back into my eyes, she smiles, her head is a bit higher and her shoulders roll back. She wants to be seen.

I am no longer a thirteen year old girl. I still have the dolls, though they are all collecting dust in a storage unit somewhere. Shortly after my thirteenth birthday I relieved the one doll of her sentry duty next to my dresser, she was retired just like the rest of them. I am twenty and I am no longer a scared, insecure girl, though I still bear the scars from her wounds. I remember the feelings of dread and the horrible places my mind once lived in. I am old enough now to realize how silly it all really was.

I am happy that I was never truly successful in becoming that doll. I am not a doll. I am not perfect. I am not unbreakable or even beautiful. I am not empty. Not anymore.​​