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When you’re five, you’re always smiling. Rolling around in the grainy sand, cherry red popsicles stain your chapped lips. No one judges you; no one cares. Life is easy. Or at least it seems like it.
You are carefree. Things like looks don’t matter. Until everything changes. One day you walk into school, and it seems like your whole world has turned upside down. You’re the outcast. You don’t like sparkly headbands or frilly, lacey dresses. Playing football with the guys appears to be a much better idea. You don’t care that they whisper behind your back. Not until you hear them. You hear they’re jagged jokes and bitter laughs. Your smile is gone.
You turn eight and your vision goes fuzzy. You can no longer see the beautifully scripted cursive on the blackboard or the monotone highway signs you pass everyday. It’s a different world.
Crooked teeth lace your mouth. The doctors tell you you need braces and glasses. You don’t really mind; you’ve never cared much how you look. But your best friend does. When you break the news to her, she scowls. You’re told you’ll look like a freak. She doesn’t hang out with freaks.
Twelve years old, and you can barely look in the mirror. Everything seems grotesque; from your bushy hair to your misshapen thighs. You want to change, but you don’t know how. Your best friends insist that you’re beautiful. But they’re liars. They only see what they want to. They can’t see what you see: the soft lumpiness of your upper arms, the rough white heads dotting your face. Are they blind?
That year, a girl in your class has a birthday party. You decide to go, despite your desperate need to go hide in a closet. You know they’ll be there, those girls whose skirts are too short and shirts too low. The girls who smile when they see you and the moment you leave they tear you apart. They’ll stand in the corner, jutting their hips to the side like supermodels, and cackling like hyenas.
What were you thinking? From the moment you get there, torture is served on a silver platter. You cringe as they callously jeer while you shovel in food. Your mouth burns with self-loathing; your skin tingles with disgust. What is wrong with you?
You are about to explode. You reach for your phone, ready to call home. Look a new text message! As you read, tears fill your eyes; how could anyone be this insensitive? You stare at the hateful words, and your heart beats out of your chest. You want to die.
You are fifteen. You’re out to dinner with your friends. They pile in food like children at a carnival. You stare at your leafy green salad, virtually tasteless. Your mouth curls in revulsion as you watch them finger greasy, salt soaked potatoes and imitation bread batter chicken fingers. They try to force some on you; they tell you it’s okay. But you have to resist. You can’t let them break you. You must stay strong. The less you eat, the happier you get.
You’re not anorexic; you eat. But only eat enough to live. Chewy caramel, luscious chocolate, and cheesy pizza no longer exist. You live in a bubble.
Everything you love is thrown into a closet: soft sweatpants, comfy t-shirts, worn out running shoes. You never wear the lace, the frills, the sparkles, but you shop in their stores. Your style is different, a collage of everyone you know. But it’s not you. You were swallowed up when the weight on the scales lowered, the hair on your head straightened, the mask of make up appeared. You didn’t change because of the girls who laughed or the boys who jeered. You changed because you had to. You changed because of you.
It’s five months and 40 pounds later, and you still can’t smile.