Pretty Potion: An Annotated Recipe
Pretty Potion is the solution
to every homely girl’s puberty predicament.
Acne, flat chest, braces, awkwardness—one sip
of Pretty Potion and you’ll have beauty, grace, charm and
popularity. Recipe yields four servings—
enough to get any girl through puberty.
1 teaspoon white sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 pink lipstick3
1 bottle red nail polish4
2 tablespoons eye shadow, assorted colors5
4 spritz Binaca breath spray6
1 tube acne ointment
1 pink disposable razor7
1 Barbie doll8
1 lock Kelly Kapowski’s hair 9
1 photograph of yourself 10
In a mixing bowl, combine sugar, cinnamon and crushed eye shadow. Set aside.
Strip Barbie doll and remove head. Coarsely chop pieces and place in the top of a double boiler over hot, not simmering water. Melt doll, stirring until smooth. Add disposable razor, acne ointment, lipstick and nail polish. Stir mixture over low heat to avoid clumping.
Transfer doll mixture into large pot, adding dry ingredients slowly. Stir over medium heat until combined.
Wrap lock of hair tightly around photograph until picture is completely obscured. Add to potion.
Spritz potion four times with breath spray and while jumping from foot to foot, recite the following incantation: Put your mind to it. Go for it. Get down and break a sweat. Rock and roll. You ain’t seen nothing yet. *
Stir over medium heat for four hours or until the concoction turns golden.
Drink on the first full moon following your twelfth birthday. Repeat as desired, preferably one week before school pictures.
Warning! Follow directions precisely. Inexact measurements could result in uneven-sized breasts.
1That year I was all hair and naked brown shoulders. I felt like the inside of a tight grape ready to rip
open between someone’s teeth. At the time, I was convinced that my braces were the shackles that kept
everything wondrous about me, all my beauty, my essence, bound to the earth—the only thing that
prevented me from shedding my ugliness and catapulting into the blue, blue sky.
2My grandmother called me bruha. Witch. I wore my hair in tangles and blobbed around the house in
one of her old muumuus—the feel of worn cotton as comfortable as silk parachute tenting my fleshy
body, obscuring my unshaven legs and ashy knees. In the afternoons, I stripped off the overly big,
boyish clothing my mother dressed me in and watched back-to-back episodes of Saved by the Bell,
dreaming of a life like Kelly Kapowski’s. I longed for neon shirts cinched at the waist, jean jackets and
blue tights with fluffy layered socks. I wanted to be prom queen, to date Zack Morris, to wear a hot pink
bra instead of my sister’s old training bra salvaged from a heap of socks on the garage table.
3My elementary school pictures were marred by buckteeth, the monstrous result of thumb sucking late
into kindergarten. In an attempt to save on orthodontic costs, my dad suggested I push a closed fist
against my two front teeth to force them back into place. I did this for hours on end, in bed at night and
on long car trips, until my gums ached, and the lined impression of two teeth became embedded into the
skin of my hand. On the heels of my first period, followed braces—cemented on metal and wire made
my already fat lips swell out like a puffer fish, turning me into some Asian version of Bubba from
Forrest Gump. Braces became my modern day chastity belt—I never smiled around boys for fear of
pizza sauce gummed into my metal mouth. I spent many a school lunch gargling Mountain Dew and
sucking food away from my teeth, eliciting hideous Sstthhhhhhhhh! sounds that resonated like a walrus
blowing its nose.
4With the unfamiliar world of femininity beckoning, I scavenged the house for clues to unlocking the
Kelly Kapowski in me. Each night, I fumbled under the bathroom sink through my sister’s abandoned
beauty products: mousse, gel, Aqua Net, a hair crimper I once tried, but couldn’t get hot enough to
work, bottles and bottles of polish I slathered onto the stubs of my bitten off nails, red bleeding all over
skin like I’d picked my nose with every finger of my left hand.
5My sister’s eye shadow compact was like an artist’s palette and brush that could paint me beautiful. I
fingered the long black compact, caressing the magic wand and bright little squares, gouging deep holes
into my favorite colors: shimmery gold and silver over my eyelids, cerulean blue underneath. I dug the
wand into fire red, rubbing the improvised blush into my cheeks with my thumbs. I posed for hours in
the bathroom mirror, sucking in my cheeks and slitting my eyes. After many sighs, I washed away the
prettiness, smudging a cotton towel with blurry shadows. Later, I flinched when she yelled my name,
denied everything, even when she waved the compact at my mother. New makeup all ruined with
chunks missing and colors mucked together. I didn’t cry, not even when she said I used all the cheap
colors that only prostitutes wear.
6Getting ready for my first seventh grade dance, my brother told me I looked pretty, predicting that I
would soon get my first kiss. I wore white jeans with a red and blue striped shirt to the dance, and
carried around his unexpected compliment in my throat all night. Having left my glasses at home, I
stumbled around the darkened gymnasium, dazzled by the overhead rotating lights and intrigued by
thick reek of Cool Water cologne. That year, I popped mints addictively and carried Binaca everywhere
I went, in preparation for the kiss that wouldn’t come for seven years.
7My first time, I sat on the edge of the bathtub clutching a bar of soap and my sister’s pink disposable
razor with the little flowers on the handle. I ran wet hands down my calves on skin like silk, thinking, is
this what it feels like to feel sexy? My sister threw out the razor next time she showered. Don’t you
know I could get AIDS from sharing a razor? That’s disgusting. After ten minutes of studying the pink
plastic in the trash, trying to see the AIDS, I covered the pink with a single square of toilet paper.
8Two weeks before the eighth grade graduation dance, my best friend and I ransacked the local mall
searching for the perfect dresses. We settled on matching short sleeve velvet dresses that came to our
knees—her in black, me in maroon. In our junior high opinions, we looked pretty and mature without
being slutty, showing only a little bit of leg and the slight rounding of pubescent breasts. In the dressing
room of Charlotte Russe, my mother deemed it ‘too old’ for me, and when I whined that my best friend
would be wearing the same dress and her mother bought it, her kindly response was, “You’re bigger
than her.” Bigger, that adjective that has been used to describe me my whole life. Sometimes ‘bigger’ is
to be shaped like a barrel. Other times it is to puff out ones cheeks and extend the arms wide, as if
describing a baby elephant, rather than a young girl. By the time I was thirteen I didn’t even flinch when
my male cousins called me Chewie.
9I should have defied my backward mother, that paranoid woman who would later tell me that tampons
ruined a girl’s virginity. I should have bought that velvet dress with stolen money, stuffed it into a purse
and changed in the school bathroom before the dance. I should have transformed into the Kelly
Kapowski I knew was inside me, sloughed the fear from my face with exfoliant and dressed my skin in
clouds of medium beige powder and lipstick. I should have kissed that boy, emblazoned that moment
into my adolescent heart and fueled the confidence I so longed for in high school.
10I worried that in the dark someone might mistake me for a boy. I wore black gaucho pants and a lime
green button up collared shirt, my too big shoes clunking on the gym’s wood floors. Again, without my
glasses, I blundered through the throng of bodies, both disturbed and exhilarated by the crush of gyrating
eleven and twelve year olds dancing to Just A Girl and Tha Crossroads, ever aware that I wore pants
and my sister’s training bra.
* lyrics from the song ‘Go For It,’ sung by Hot Sundae on Saved By The Bell.