Potato Face stands in front of her bathroom mirror. Pasted round the edge are screengrabs of insta-models and make-up YouTubers. Sweetheart faces with tiny rounded chins and straight, slender noses. Apple cheeks sat on pronounced cheekbones above defined and slender jawlines. Perfect eyebrows arch like the beams of a cathedral over eyes like rose windows beneath. They will be her guide.
Potato Face has a name, a real one. She has friends. She has a job she’s good at. She likes the crust on soda bread, the first cold day of winter, and the smell of fresh polish on her toenails. But no one sees any of that the first time they look at her. No, the first thing, the only thing really, that she’s sure comes to mind the moment anyone looks at her, that she sees tumbling over their expression like children blurting out the names of the animals they see, is, “That woman’s face looks just like a potato!”
Sometimes, she doesn’t see it. At a glance, all she sees is a face. But then the longer she looks, the more tuber-esque features she finds. The jaundiced tone. The pitted acne scars. The blue-black permabags under her eyes. She wonders how she could have missed it. It’s so obvious. Just like a potato.
But not for much longer.
She grips the peeler in her hand. Sharpening it was hard, but Potato Face doesn’t want to do this twice.
When Potato Face was eight, her mother openly despaired.
“Do you think it’s a condition?”
“Maybe it’s something in the genes?”
“I never met my great uncle and we have no photos.”
She took Potato Face round all the hairdressers in town, looking for some style that would take the spud out of her mug. A fringe to hide her forehead. A voluminous blow out to balance out her chin. Layers and feathering to reframe her face with artificial cheekbones, brows and dimples. Her mother hoped it would make Potato Face better.
It did not.
Potato Face looked like a potato wearing a middle-aged woman’s wig.
At the bathroom sink, Potato Face starts with the skin.
She sticks the point of the peeler into every pockmark, wrinkle and enlarged pore. She circles the blade round the offending mark, as if removing an eye or a sprout, popping each out in meaty pyramid chunks.
The blood trickles down her chin but she’s already grinning. Panting, but grinning.
When Potato Face turned twelve, her mother brought home a bag full of skin creams, treatments and make up from the shops.
She scrubbed her skin with exfoliants hoping to sand away the acne and the open pores. She bathed her forehead and her cheeks in chemical peels until they shone red and raw, hoping to uncover the promised “good” skin underneath. She contoured and highlighted, hoping to mould her face into the faces she had found online. She hoped it would make her better.
It did not.
Potato Face looked like a potato smeared in poster paint, like when her mother used to help her make stamps out of vegetables. Before she ruined everything by having this face.
Now Potato Face starts in on the meat.
She presses the blade against her soft, pillowy cheeks. Far too much here, she thinks. It’ll have to go.
She peels the skin away in long fat strips, the colour quickly disappearing under ribbons of blood. She shaves away flesh, carving a sweet little hollow beneath each cheekbone, just like the ones in the pictures pinned around her mirror.
Somewhere her face is screaming in pain. Or is it her voice? She doesn’t care. It’s nothing compared to the euphoria of watching all that flesh finally fall away.
When Potato Face was fifteen, her mother took her to the dentist.
“Under bite,” he said, “We can fix it with braces, but surgery would be better.”
Potato Face signed the forms and agreed to the anaesthetic, to the bone-shattering fear as she was wheeled into the operating room, to the needle forced into the back of her hand. Potato Face agreed to peeling back her lips and her gums and the skin of her mouth, to sawing through her bones, to the screws and the plates driven through her jaw. Potato Face agreed to being left in a hospital far from home, to a backless surgical gown, to not being showered or washed for a week. Potato Face agreed to months of liquid diets, to lethargy, to staying awake with the needling, itching pain of nerve regrowth – some would never regrow. Potato Face agreed to all of this in the hopes it would make her better.
It did not.
Potato Face looked like a potato in a cubist painting; all angles and bulk, but definitely still a potato.
Her mother was happy, at least. For now.
Potato Face steels herself for the next part. It’s time to tackle bone.
She has vials and pills on standby, ready to help her stumble over the finish line. Miraculously, she hasn’t needed them so far. She may need them now.
Her jaw is first. She scrapes the peeler along the pink foundations of her face, shaving the offending angles and edges of her face down from that bulging blocky tuberous shape, down to a perfect sweetheart.
The adrenaline makes her head swim.
Potato Face marvels at how sticky living bone is. She’ll need to wash the peeler if she wants to continue. She splashes it about in a bucket of vodka and wipes it down. It’s nothing that you won’t see in a plastic surgeon’s office. Just cheaper.
She files her chin down from square slab to a demure, gently rounded point. She carves back her bulging forehead, but there’s only so far she can go before she hits softer tissue. Maybe later, she’ll hack away at the offending parts of that too.
Potato Face had had no choice in how she looked. Yet she had always been treated as if she did. As if she had chosen to look like this. Potato Face found that funny later, much later, after years of apologising for the way her face had grown.
I’m so sorry, she used to think, how could I have been so careless?
Some people, kind people, would compliment her on her cupid’s bow and soft skin. Others would remark with, obviously fake, surprise if she ever mentioned her own clear perception of her features. No one thinks ugly people understand beauty, but Potato Face knew better. If anything, she had a prodigious eye for what is beautiful. She’d studied beauty her whole life, seeing precisely how far her own face fell from the ideal.
She did not want anyone’s pity.
It was clear to Potato Face by now that despite everything she was told in school and in self-help books and that corny quote about lovely thoughts radiating out of a person’s face, it really was appearances that matter most.
And she was done with this potato of a face.
Potato Face drops the peeler in the bucket, breathless. She is finished.
Her new face glistens, steaming, red and wet.
Potato Face is not an idiot. She doesn’t need her mother’s strangled scream to know she’s made a monster of herself. But at least she is a monster of her own choosing now and that is better, she thinks.
She carefully poses and takes a picture of her work. Then she posts it online and waits for the reactions to come rolling in.
Rhiannon A. Grist is a Welsh writer of Weird, Horror and Sci Fi living and working in Edinburgh. She writes and performs with Writers’ Bloc and has been published by Shoreline of Infinity, Strix, Hedera Felix, The Selkie and Monstrous Regiment.