She gazed into her father’s eyes, hope written all over her face. He went through the academic report, her heart in her mouth. “You can do better than this”, he said. It had never been any different, and she held back her tears. She had done her best and she wanted him to be proud of her, but it was never enough. It may have been his way of nudging her along but it just pushed her, for life, to go on. It became her need, not her desire to be the best, always. She could never settle as the second best, not once, not ever. She spent troubled days when something did not go as she had envisioned. The need to be the best, the need to hear that she was the best transcended every boundary, every act. Validation drove her. All she wanted was to be liked, to be made to feel special. And she would make you feel special anyway, she would keep you safe but you’d have to keep her heart safe.

She needed to be beautiful because all her childhood, she had been the “less beautiful” child, the “not so fair” child. Her sister was fair, all her cousins were fair, fairer, and more beautiful. She looked into the mirror and all she saw was flaws – laugh lines, dark circles, skin too dark. Her hair did not cascade down her back like her sister’s or her cousins’. Her eyes had the depth of an ocean but they were not a striking colour, nor heavily fringed, nor too big, nor beautifully shaped. She saw nothing special when she looked into the mirror, no matter how long, how hard she peered.

The first time someone told her that she was beautiful, she was 19. She did not believe it, she still doesn’t. She studies with all her attention and her teachers love her, she aces the class; she cooks; she sings; she paints; she works; she cares; she loves with abandon, with all she has. But she will never be enough.