Unmasked

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"Ugly," my grandfather blatantly declared.

The eight-year-old me looked down in confusion and shame, having just committed the greatest crime of the century: breaking and entering a makeup bag.

"You must get rid of that," he continued.

Following his command, I submissively raised one hand to my lips and smeared away the red lipstick. My other hand tugged on the mascara, smudging blotches onto my childish fingertips. Finally, with the backs of my hands, I swiped away the artificial blush.

I knew girls who rummaged through their mothers' cosmetics bags and transformed into circus clowns. Having seen the initial shock of the mothers and then heard the relieving laughter that quickly followed, I had expected an equal reaction from my grandfather.

My own explanation for his peculiar response was that I am Chinese; this single attribute distinguished me from my fellow circus clowns. I had only tried to use my face as a canvas for my creativity. I later learned that it is culturally unacceptable to cake my youthful face in makeup, as youth is highly valued in my culture. Only older women wear makeup to conceal signs of aging. Nevertheless, I accused my grandfather of a crime far worse than mine: "cultural reinforcement."

This instance...

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