Step 1: Wash Run a bath. Clean the bath first, because you’ve seen the criticism around baths. ‘Bathtubs are full of germs!’ and ‘you’re sitting in your own squalor!’. Yeah, you acknowledge, baths are kind of gross. Cover the tub in bleach. Rinse the bleach away, all the while a little scared you might miss a spot and burn yourself, but it’s better than having germs on yourself. Right? Once it’s filled, sink yourself into the warm-almost-hot liquid which has been ever-so-slightly tinted blue by cheap lavender scented bubble bath. It surprises you how comforting it is. The water holds you in place. It soaks you up in a quiet reassurance that you haven’t felt since the last time you were in love. Resist dunking your whole head under the water. It isn’t hair wash day, if you get your hair wet it’ll look greasy, and you can’t have that. Instead, just let the water linger around your neck. It surrounds your whole body, reaching every crevice, only leaving your head free. Everything beneath has been willingly trapped by the water. It begins to feel increasingly suffocating. Wince. Pull your upper body out of the water. The liquid now lingers just underneath your breast. Tell yourself, it’s fine, it’s just questionably clean hot water. The door is locked. You are alone. Step 2: Cleanse Two pumps of cleanser. Lather it up in your cold, freshly washed hands so it doesn’t scare the capillaries in your cheeks too much. Rub the cream vigorously on your acne scars, the ones that run along your jaw. Not that you have a jaw, but maybe if you rub enough, you’ll reduce lactic acid build-up, and you won’t look so puffy faced all the time. You read about lactic acid somewhere. You’re not entirely convinced it exists, but the harsh rubbing does feel quite soothing. You’ve forgotten about your neck; your brain is occupied with questioning whether lactic acid does exist. Or whether the whole thing is a con to get you to buy weirdly shaped utensils. Sticks with large cold stones of Jasmine or Rose Quartz attached to the ends. You’re supposed to roll it across your cheeks, so the acid underneath is released making your skin appear flatter, better. You have no idea it is real Jasmine or Rose Quartz. Or whether real Jasmine or Rose Quartz would work any better. You’ve seen large online beauty shops selling the rollers. This appealed to you because it would be much less intimidating to buy online. You might be getting conned by a big corporation, but at least you could do it from the comfort of your own bed using the bank card your phone has memorised, only leaving you with the almost too easy task of inputting your three digit security number. Step 3: Exfoliate You used to exfoliate your face, but you stopped when you read an article that explained how the tiny plastic particles could be rubbing against the tiny holes in your face, causing them to become less-tiny. After reading, you looked in the mirror, and sure enough, there were less-tiny holes in your face. You had never noticed them before, but now you did. They must have got bigger if now you were noticing them. Instead, you exfoliate your legs. There was a video you saw of a dermatologist -well a woman that called herself a dermatologist- who said human skin is thickest around the legs. You’re not sure why you are doing it. No one sees your legs. You haven’t shaved in six months. You see, six months ago, the thought occurred to you how much you would save on razors if you only shaved when your legs would be seen by other human beings. But, you still feel guilty for not skinning yourself bare. Hair means you’re not sexy. Exfoliating is sexy. Legs are sexy. Exfoliated hairy legs aren’t exactly sexy, but they aren’t exactly unsexy. It’s a compromise, of sorts. Step 4: Toner Water is a toner. Or so you heard, from someone, somewhere on the internet. So, you sink yourself further in the tub. But not too much, you don’t want to wet your hair and you particularly don’t enjoy the sensation of the water surrounding your neck. It doesn’t feel like human hands, but it reminds you of human hands and that’s enough. Instead, lean your head forwards, keeping your hair and neck dry. Berate yourself for a few seconds for not buying real toner when you were in Boots, it was only two pounds. But water is a toner, or so you heard, so it should be just fine as a temporary replacement. Right? Intermissionthis is where you lie in your own squalor, enjoying the sensation of your blood rising to the surface of your skin. You’ll be in such a state of bliss that you won’t notice the red lines along your shoulder till you eventually get out of the tub and see yourself in the half-steamed up bathroom mirror looking like one of those lollipops that your grandad used to give you when you were a child; the ones that are half-white, half-pink.
You stay until your toes wrinkle, and the bubble-wrap-cum-rice crispy popping noise finally stops, as all the bubbles are depleted and you are finally greeted with your pudgy stomach in the water, resting there. It looks at its most ugly, but it also reminds you of how placid, how accepting your own stomach is of your constant torment. Think about being kinder to it. Think about everyone that posts a photo of their bath on their Instagram stories with the caption ‘me time’. Think about your own ‘me time’. Sitting in a tub of -now- tepid water, thinking about the futility of your self-imposed hatred towards your own stomach.Step 5: Moisturise You enjoy moisturising, almost as much as cleansing. It makes your cheeks feel soft and squidgy, although you know you should be minimal on your face touching. You worry about the towel, the door-handle, everything you touched before squirting moisturiser onto the tip of your left forefinger. How every germ you have come into contact with may have made your entire routine until this point an almost redundant activity. Although your limbs are still tinged red, your fingers are cold again. You’re grateful for it, it’s soothing. The sensation reminds you of a stranger touching your face, which is pleasant, but that reminds you of a stranger touching your neck. Looking in the mirror, you imagine seeing what they did from a stranger’s POV. How a kiss turned to kissing, which turned to touching, which turned to touching your neck, holding your neck, tightening around your neck. Your neck became an object of pleasure for someone else. You didn’t stop them. You could have. But, you couldn’t decide in that moment whether you genuinely disliked it. You wanted to be accommodating, you didn’t want to stop kissing them, you didn’t know the risks involved and so, you just waited for it to be over. Step 6: Serum You don’t really understand exactly what serum is, but it appears on all the lists. What you did stumble across, on your many internet searches, was Rose Hip Oil. Rose Hip Oil. Reduces Acne. Rose Hip Oil. Eradicates Scars. Rose Hip Oil. Exorcises the Devil, so that you too can be as beautiful as he intended. You’ve used Rose Hip Oil for months and it hasn’t done any of that, or maybe it has, and you just can’t tell. You spent a lot of time locating your blemishes, but you still forget what used to be where. It’s hard to keep track of everything that needs to be improved, it’s as though there’s always something to replace what had occupied your brain before. There’s probably a new Oil now, a better Oil, or perhaps another step you need to add. You’ll research it later, to see what you are missing. Why does it always feel like there is something missing? For now, you slather the Oil on. It doesn’t soak in, it lies heavy on your face. You apply it for the sole reason that tomorrow morning your face will feel fresh and red-less. Your skin will look like how you want skin to appear, and not what skin actually seems to be. End – You get into bed. The duvet is pulled up to your neck, so even your own skin can’t touch it. There is no piece of fabric that fools you into a false sense of security more than your duvet. A duvet feels nothing like a person, a duvet holds no strength.
Get out of the tub.
About the Author
Natalya Edwards is a writer from ethereal land of The Wirral, located just outside of Liverpool. She recently completed a Creative Writing MA from the University of Manchester, and has a History BA from the University of Sheffield. She currently writes short stories and flash fiction.