May Tharaphwu Tun, a crown that shines bright, is an interesting name for a dark-skinned girl. Statements like, “This color won’t match her; it makes her look too dark.” or “This lipstick makes her too brown.” never failed to elude me in the backstages of countless performances throughout New York City. Dancing constantly on stage to stage from the ages of six to thirteen made it seem comfortable, a second home.
8th grade was an awkward time; my skin color was the main reason for it. It was too dark for the center of attention. Spending 15-20 minutes in the shower trying to scrub the “dark” off my skin, I thought I was too dirty. Not pretty enough. Not white enough. Not good enough. These thoughts plagued my entire middle school years.
Celebrities back home in Burma had constantly advertised skin whitening creams and lotions, and fair skin was the ideal standard of beauty. Waking up early to put on a foundation that was three shades lighter seemed like the only way to hide my skin color. The stage had bright spotlights that showed all of your imperfections, whether you liked it or not. To 8th grade me, who could barely show her face without makeup, this was far from ideal.
Even though the stage was a familiar place to me, the middle school stage seemed foreign, estranged even. Dancing on that stage was something that I never wanted to do. Having my insecurities broadcasted to my peers paralyzed me. But after days and weeks of my parents and friends encouraging me, I gathered the last shred of courage I had to go and sign up.
And finally, the big day had come.
To say I was nervous was an understatement. Under my htaingmathein, my body was drenched in sweat. My feet wobbled as I walked through the hallways, attempting to calm the butterflies ravaging through my stomach. I felt out of place. The hot pink dress, adorned with sequins that my mother had assured made my skin look whiter, drew too much attention. I had gone to the girl’s bathroom for the fifth time that evening, ensuring that my foundation was still intact and that I hadn’t sweated it off with my nerves.
“May Tun?” said the stagehand. My turn had come. Flashing a weak smile to my friends, I stumbled to the stage with my heart about to burst out of my chest. Thoughts suddenly rushed through my head. Is the foundation still on? What if the dress unfurls itself? What if I trip on the dress? What if I forget the choreography? What if- I was brought out of my anxious tirade by a slight push onto the stage.
The music started to play. But panic began to rush through my body as I missed the beginning of the song. My mouth started to go dry. I could feel my heart beating through the veins in my head. Oh god. This is the end. I’m done for.
But then a roar erupted from the audience. Were they booing me? I looked towards the sound, and I saw my friends whistling and screaming. They are cheering for me, I thought in astonishment. They’re not booing me at all. My shoulders started to lower and my hands stopped shaking. A smile was plastered across my face.
I didn’t wear a foundation the next day. I didn’t feel like I needed it, because that night, I truly felt like a crown that shined bright.