The Clown

Georges Rouault, The Old Clown from Cirque, 1930. Courtesy MoMA.

Katie lifted her chin towards the ceiling, then down and slightly to the right. She was puckering her lips unconsciously, as if she had the face of a juvederm-filled Beverly Hills housewife instead of that of an acne-prone twenty-seven-year-old girl. Realising her dysmorphia, she relaxed the tiny muscles around her lips and eyes, stared blankly at her reflection, and groaned. Without her mirror pout, she looked gaunt and lifeless, sad even. She edged her hips up to the sink, leaning her torso over the basin to examine her face under the fluorescent-toned light. Her eyelashes had clumped together on one side, an errant group of five to seven blackest black-coloured spikes twisted around one another like horny teenagers at a high school dance. Katie could never get her makeup right.

She wiped some stray mascara from her eyelid with a Q-TIP, revealing a trail of pink skin beneath the acid-green eyeshadow she had applied just moments earlier. The smudge of black and green on the white cotton tip reminded her of the bottle of wine she reluctantly purchased that day. The label was designed to look unpretentious, as if a child-like painting of a clown could make a thirty-dollar bottle of sour, alcoholic juice more palatable. Like the no-makeup-makeup of injectable-clad influencers, the biodynamic wine trend seemed to her to be anything but natural. It was just part of the consumerist, neoliberal move toward inconspicuous consumption, she thought, fuelled by some bullshit narrative around organic food and small-scale production. She had read somewhere that a lot of these small companies were actually operated by major landowners in Europe who paid immigrants slave wages to tend to their grapes. There’s no ethical consumption under capitalism, she thought, remembering a meme she saw earlier. We’re all just pawns of the system.

Katie struggled out of a black vintage high-waisted Vivienne Westwood skirt, cringing when she heard the sound of the zipper pop as she shimmied the silk-lined velvet garment past her fleshy hips. She wanted to wear something archival to impress Claudia, but her face was already showing her anxiety, and a tight skirt would only make it worse. Besides, no-one would even know it was Vivienne Westwood unless she told them, or if they examined the tiny orb etched into the button on the side of her waist. She tossed the skirt on her unmade bed, readjusted her thong, and made her way back to the closet.

As she slid the sticky mirrored door to the right, she caught a glimpse of her suffocated torso. Two deep lines encircled her waist, echoing her resentment towards the fact that she was no longer a size zero. She yanked a Jean Paul Gaultier button-up from the back of her closet. It was the same hue as the bright yellow goo she watched get pumped out of the thighs of a doll-like woman on Bravo earlier that day. Katie tried to imagine what it would be like if the small pucker of fat above her kneecaps was her biggest insecurity. She buttoned the oversized garment across her chest, the space between the silk and her skin made her feel light — skinny like the girls she used to stalk on the internet, who taught her that the best way to hide an eating disorder was by wearing gigantic clothes. But by the time she made her way to the mirror the billowing blouse had turned on her. It, or rather she, had become blob-like, a hunk of yellow fat accentuated by bright green eyelids.

 ‘Fuck,’ Katie mumbled, making her way back to the bathroom mirror. She fumbled through a large silver bag filled with pencil shavings and tubes of sparkly lip gloss, retrieving a small, cotton round stained with the crumbs of a broken highlighter palette. She grabbed a bottle of makeup remover and dripped the cool liquid onto the dirty pad before rubbing it across her right eye. The green powder turned to mush, but the colour didn’t go away. A black and chartreuse stain encircled her socket; the discharge of a nuclear disaster. Katie could feel her contact lens sliding around as she scrubbed, the neon liquid seeping through the cracks of her eyelid. Green tears streamed down her cheeks. Goosebumps meets Jeffree Star cosmetics. Choose your own adventure.

Panicked, Katie reached for her foundation, pouring the pale liquid over the top of her hand until it rolled off the side of her thumb and into the sink. She dabbed her index finger into the fluid, wiping it around her yellow-stained crevices before attempting to pat it in like the influencers she watched on TikTok. As she worked the paint around her face, massaging the liquid into her parched skin, she noticed a series of red bumps clustered around her chin. They jutted out proudly from the layer of white cake, crusts of flakey skin surrounding them like freshly baked filo dough. She lifted a finger and considered what might happen if she took her nail to the dry pastry. She could bleed, she thought, but the bump would be gone, for a moment at least. Katie resisted the urge to pick. Maybe I just need a drink, she thought as she wandered toward the fridge. I’m sure Claudia won’t mind if I sample the bottle. 

She stood at the counter, mindlessly picking at the mounds on her chin in between sips. The juicy liquid felt cool and acidic on her tongue. She poured another glass, making sure to leave the bottle half-full. She sat down on the edge of her mattress, holding the cup of wine between her bare legs while she checked the stories on Instagram. There was a video of a hot girl wiggling around in front of a mirror hung above her bed, another of her friend’s new cat taking a shit in a potted houseplant, and a post from Claudia — a tasteful pan over a dinner table set with art deco plates, and a bouquet of black lilies and feathers and something that sparkled. She hadn’t realised but she was digging now, this time more methodically. Manicured nails lifted up the edges of fresh scabs, her padded fingertips tracing circles over her already-pocked face looking for rough, bumpy spots to grab onto. She tossed her phone on the bed and caught a glimpse of her caked up hand. The foundation had seeped into the creases of her skin, forming an ashy, dry landscape that reminded her of the desert back home. Her nails were crusted with blood.

Katie pulled out a pair of poufy Comme des Garçons shorts from the top of her closet. She had never worn them, partially because they had been too big for her, but mostly because her boyfriend said they made her look thick. She slid the soft shorts up her legs, the waist fit perfectly. Katie tucked in her chartreuse top, stepped into a pair of knee high boots, and floated over to the kitchen to grab the bottle of wine. If she wanted to make it in time for the dinner party she would have to work quickly. She ignored her caked up hands and the swollen raw mounds on her chin, and reached for the eyeshadow pallet. Yellow goes with purple she thought, as she swept a fluffy royal-toned brush across her eyelid. Eyeshadow in place, she completed her routine: black liquid eyeliner by Kat Von D on top of the eyes. Under eye concealer by Tarte under the eyes. Under eye concealer by Tarte on the chin. Translucent powder by Laura Mercier all over the face. Bronzing powder by Fenty on the cheeks. Pink orgasm blush by Nars on the cheeks. Highlighter palette by Anastasia Beverly Hills on the upper cheeks. Star tattoo stamp by Milk Makeup around the eyes. Rouge Cerise lip liner by Chanel around the lips. Rouge Cerise lipstick by Chanel on the lips.

A sewage-like flavour enveloped her mouth as she took a final swig from the bottle. A trickle of rancid, sparkling sediment had drained onto her tongue, her reflexes allowing it to dribble from her lips and down onto her pocked chin. Her bloody, makeup-covered fingers rushed to catch the sludge before it reached her blouse, but it was too late. Her makeup was ruined, and a pink splatter spread down the front of her shirt.

She’d have to change her clothes again.


Taylore Scarabelli is a New York-based writer whose work focuses on fashion, feminism and technology. She is fond of Ed Hardy and fist-size hoops.