Curled up in bed with a book inches away from her nose is a little girl. Every day the words imprinted on the page nourished her mind, gleaning new knowledge to feed her brain. Nearly half a decade ago, her subconscious already knew something important. The world she lives in is not one she can call her own. Therefore, she found a way to transport herself elsewhere temporarily. On the edge of one world and immersed in another, she buried her head in books to drown out the noise of silence for hours at a time. Even though this eight year old couldn’t dice vegetables or boil water, she had a special gift. Unlike other presents, this one did not come with wrapping paper or a pretty bow. The gift did not drop in her lap. Rather she claimed the gift of reading for herself. At the time, she didn’t realize fictional worlds—no matter how terrible—seemed like a perfect fairy-tale compared to real life.
I was unaware the world could be so cruel.
On an occasion like this, her mom reached for a camera. Propped up on the table is a birthday cake. Familiar faces crowded around her like floating balloons. She sees the audible click followed by a white, blinding flash. The light in her eyes brought a giggle to her throat. Unfortunately, the innocuous images depicted a misleading story much like headlines in a tabloid magazine. This young child carries a round face and flat hair. At that age, she refused to wear denim jeans or pink dresses. She didn’t have the heart to wear anything tight or to show even a sliver of skin.
I should have known all along that pictures are incapable of capturing the truth hidden behind a lying smile.
A blanket of snow covered the ground outside. Blood coursed inside her body, raining down. Moving into womanhood should have been a good thing. She has lived more than three thousand days already. Then again, a decade of life is just a slice of the whole pie. She started to understand more than she did two years ago though. The child wonders what would have happened had she stuck inside her safe haven, stayed within the confines of her room with books containing black and white words. Expansion meant exposure to images so phony they may as well have been sweetened dreams. It meant having to grasp how the media portrayed women. Flipping through TV channels or magazines is how she delved into the society she would live in for her entire lifetime. She got her first taste into what society deems as beautiful. Comments were aimed and fired like a shot to the gut. Airbrushed skin, artificial body, abstract face. This woman is the ideal.
I am not.
The girl started to believe every snicker or whisper was her own fault. Walking down the hall was akin to strutting down a runway except everyone watched with judgemental minds and foul mouths. Worse, anything anyone said aloud might as well as have been gospel. No one taught her to appreciate people with tremendous courage. As opposed to her taped shut lips, these kids spoke up when something or someone they saw was strange, different, out of place. Boys and girls alike voiced their opinion, without sugar coating the words, to her face. A thank you would come much later.
At eleven, I was too upset to be grateful.
Since she was put down constantly, she lost the ability to tell time accurately. She started to feel like she has been mocked her whole life. Hope flickered out faster than she could swallow.
I felt my current situation would never change simply because I was trapped in my body—an unwanted, undesirable one at best.
By now, the teen has lost track of every single night she has cried, silently. It was her problem. No one else’s. People kept telling her to go on a diet. The nicer, more considerate individuals suggested exercising. No matter how much she worked out, she didn’t see stellar results. Nevertheless, she didn’t do the former because food became her way of coping.
Later I came to realize my refusal to diet suggested a love for myself deeper than I imagined possible.
Discovering dance didn’t take her by surprise. When she first started, the beginner felt the opposite of comfortable or confident.
Dance gave me a chance to express myself when words were not enough.
A vicious cycle churned in her stomach like poison. Each time she hit a low point because her raw body didn’t fit the mold the media shoves down everyone’s throat, she ate. And ate. Needless to say, she blamed herself. As expected, no one came to realize this. Every time a person pointed it out, their remarks only served to cut deeper.
People felt the need to mention my flaw even though it was very visible to me.
Human beings allowed the word fat to have a negative connotation. Even so, with every passing second this word and many others like it continue to develop an increasingly damaging reputation. When did words become an all-consuming weapon? A way to harm, to shame, to degrade? In retrospect, she felt like she was bullied for more than just being fat. There are multiple misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding people like her. We’re lazy. She dances every day. We’re weak. She can perform over fifty push-ups in a row. We’re eating all the time. She can barely stand to eat in front of others.
However, those labels are exactly what I was reduced to.
She’s better now. Less self-conscious, more confident. She never liked wearing jeans before. Not because she didn’t like jeans but because they served to burn her body, leaving marks on places no one saw. She had zero dresses in her closet. Now she has one for every occasion because she’s done with feeling eaten alive from the inside out. She stopped trying to fit someone else’s ideal, and she started to chase her own. Although she is happy in her skin, there is room for improvement. She wants to be more flexible. She wants to be stronger, faster, better. For her, it’s not about being as skinny as a spoon, as thin as a table leg.
Life is about being healthy. More importantly, I want to be happy.
It took me a long time to realize it is not my size that matters in this constant battle.
She is not a number. Age. Grade. Height. Weight. She is more than that.
The wait is over. Thanks for the patience.