Self-portrait By Isabelle Fortaleza-Tan


“I think people make their own faces, as they grow.”
― Enid Blyton

At eight, my mother begins to
squeeze the plateau between
my eyes to sculpt a bridge, too flat,
not pretty. I swat away her hands,
it hurts Mama— a small
mound hardens in place.

At ten, my cousins, shiny as
polished bronze, tell me they
want my skin, compare my cheeks
to porcelain plates, so white, so pretty.
I stop going out at noon, learn to
prime my canvas with splotchy SPF.

At twelve, my father is told to
go back to where he came from, in
the parking lot of a Trader Joe’s. I
try to shuck open my slits, praying for
baby blue pearl. I prod at saggy lid,
carve out pleats with paper clip. When
I sleep just right, I wake up with
faint folds of assimilation.

At fourteen, my crush tells me my
eyebrows are bushy, gross, like a man’s.
With my father’s razor, I purge coarse
shrubbery under fluorescent yellow.
I knick skin— leaving viscous red
and infertile land which I will sketch in

At sixteen, the clay is set. My Lola1
tells me I’m all grown up, a lady.
I preach acceptance, plaster on
a glossy finish. But in the early hours,
when the clock ticks louder than my
thoughts, I still try to smooth down the
hill atop my nose.

1Lola: Grandmother in Tagalog

By Isabelle Fortaleza-Tan


Isabelle is a junior at the Gyeonggi Suwon International School in South Korea. She is of Chinese and Filipino descent and has previously lived in Kuwait. She likes writing, reading, eating tzatziki, and the oxford comma. Her work has been recognized by the New York Times and has appeared in The Skinny Poetry Journal.

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