Lunch with Them This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

December 7, 2013
By , New London, CT
I saunter into the spacious cafeteria of my middle school, exhaling the tensions of the school day. For a meager 25 minutes, I can relax with my closest friends—a contrary action to demands of rigid academic scheduling in my junior high and my personal academic standards.

I have my special place in this lunchroom. I sit there every day; it’s an exclusive table of my closest guy friends. We are a group, a clique practically. This does not perturb me. My school does not fit the stereotype of junior high—there are no jocks, geeks, outcasts. The students are a welcoming body of kids, and I could easily sit with any of the twelve tables in the cafeteria and still be received kindly. But I do not prefer the company of the popular group, or any of my other good female friends. I sit with these four boys every day: Daniel, John, Kurt, James and Brian. They are my best friends. As of late I have discovered another intriguing detail about their behavior towards me, the lone girl allowed to be seated with them.

I do not bother to join the lunch line. Even though the cafeteria food is somewhat palatable and offers healthy options with a salad bar, I slide into my reserved seat next to John at the end of the table. He greets me with a smile, and I smile back. He does not question my lack of food; the guys are used to this by now.

Daniel, the unofficial leader, is in his seat at the head of the table and tosses me an impertinent glance. The three of us make small talk. Kurt, James, and Brian are in line for their hot lunches; John and Daniel are brown-baggers. I look around the lunchroom and do not glimpse any students without lunch. Half of them are in line, and the other half have set up fort with their lunch boxes. I am unique once again.

Nobody ever questions my lack of lunch. I am grateful for this. When I sat with the girls, my best friend Blair would pressure me to purchase lunch, but I never yielded to her desires. I never yield to anybody’s desires. It is a basic fact about me. For better or worse, I am headstrong and independent.

If the boys do venture a comment about the empty space before me, I shoot back a quick comeback with a flip of my hair and an arrogant smirk. Daniel, the callous comedian, dishes out a few Asian jokes about me—“She never gets school lunch because she can only eat rice!”—but I am not offended when the other boys laugh. I am grateful for their nonchalant disposition to this vital detail about my behavior. They are boys, after all. These particular boys—they don’t understand what it is like to detest your own body.

I know that if it were any other girl who refused to consume food, they would treat it as a serious issue. But I am practically their sister, and no one likes to think of their sister having a potentially serious eating disorder. I don’t think of it that way myself. All I tell myself is that I’m not hungry, and extra calories would not suffice to maintain my average physique. I ignore the disparaging comments by my family on how I should gain more weight; I excuse it as a traditional Chinese mindset. I tell myself that I can afford to trim off that extra belly fat, that my thighs are too thick.

It’s my master plan. I sit in that hard seat at the lunch table for 25 minutes, avoiding food at all costs, avoiding the sharp pangs of hunger I sometimes have. These pangs sometimes come from skipping breakfast in the morning and torturing my deprived stomach. To me, these pangs are a twisted form of satisfaction. I know that what I am doing to myself is horrible and completely unhealthy, but even as I admit this, I acknowledge that I will continue to do it.

Why did things go wrong? When I was younger, I never forced these beauty ideals upon myself. I never really thought about my appearance and how I came off to others. But all around me, in reality and media, were the “perfect” girls. They had flawlessly sculpted facial features like Greek goddesses, and rail-thin waists and legs. Somehow, I fell into the trap and aspired to be like them. In sixth grade, I began skipping meals and physically harming myself when I consumed extra calories. No one noticed this, but my efforts were still inefficacious because I never lost any weight. The only thing good springing from this skinny mindset was that I began to exercise, and to this day I am a runner.

I have faced many other emotional problems other than this desire to be skinny, but currently I am in a whirlpool of despair about food and my body. I need help, and perhaps I will be courageous enough to tell someone who can help.

Still every lunch, I fake smiles at Daniel’s cruel jokes and engage half-heartedly in banal colloquy with these best friends. Sometimes I stare off into the distance during a lull in conversation, breathing in the appetizing aroma of food—disregarding the calorie and fat content. A little part of me tells me how unhealthy, how hopeless this is to do. Every time this feeble voice protests, an image of a Victoria’s Secret model tramples it into the dust. Every time, I look across the lunchroom to my popular friends, taking in their pretty faces and slender bodies.

I sigh, because Anorexia—the nefarious, demeaning villain who takes such control over so many human bodies—has won once again.

Yet I feel the urge to eat and to forget the ideal of the "perfect" body combating Anorexia. Food is the underdog—but as history has shown, sometimes underdogs win. Sometimes. And hope is what propels every uprising, every revolution, and every victory.

I have hope that one day I will strut into my school cafeteria on a path to the lunch line and that little witch, Anorexia, will storm off in a huff, relinquishing her control over my self-esteem and my health.

Oh, yes. One day…perhaps one day, Anorexia will finally be defeated.

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