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When They Look
Don’t look at me.
It’s her silent plea.
Don’t look at me. Don’t see me. Don’t judge me.
She clenches her jaw, focusing her willpower on keeping her chin up, eyes directly ahead, back straight and tall. She has to appear confident. If she hides her weakness, her insecurities, maybe they won’t be able to judge her so harshly.
The white-knuckled grip on her books is the only thing that gives away her fear.
Oh God, don’t look, don’t look, don’t look.
Each trip through the bustling hallway is a secretly terrifying experience. Because she knows what they’ll think.
Don’t notice her weight. Don’t notice her skin. Don’t notice that she’s wearing the same outfit she wore yesterday.
She hears what people whisper behind her back, knows what they’re thinking when their gazes flick over her body, feels the judgments that rip her to shreds as she passes by.
“Ew, look at her. She’s so fat.”
An eating disorder coupled with chronic depression.
She forces a smile as they walk past.
“Have you noticed? She wears those jeans every day. Gross.”
Maybe if she had a penny to her name she’d buy new clothes.
Then again, it probably wouldn’t change a thing. Jeans and T-shirts – that’s still all it would be. Because she can hardly even stand to look at herself in the dressing room mirror.
Fat. Ugly. Disgusting.
That’s what she sees in her reflection. She’s become convinced that it’s the truth.
Her thoughts are poisoned with the voices of others, whispering silent judgments over and over inside her skull. She squeezes her eyes shut against them, pressing her palms to her ears, desperately trying to block them out, but it’s too late; they’ve become a part of her.
They keep her inside during the summer, reminding her to be mortified by the thought of being seen in a swimsuit, even though she loves to swim, and petrified at the idea of wearing shorts, even though it swelters.
It’s so unfair.
They keep her from wearing the clothes she dreams of trying on, hissing at her just how appalling she’ll look in them.
And now, after so long of her struggling against them, they manage to keep her even from hoping for happiness; the voices assure her no one could ever love a person like her.
So, so, so unfair.
And surely they’ll always continue like this, for what is there that could possibly be done?
No one teases her, laughs at her, makes fun of her. To her face.
No one corners her, pulls her hair, shoves her in lockers. There are no bruises. None that are visible, anyway.
She is not being bullied; it is human nature to cast judgments. Grow a thicker skin, and learn to ignore them. Stop caring what they think.
Being surrounded by hypocrisy every day has made her cynical, resentful, mistrustful. She grows bitter toward even her own friends, as they too dismiss her with this same “wisdom,” while simultaneously smearing their faces with products that will make them beautiful enough to be accepted.
It’s not like anyone could tell people to stop judging her. Of course they have a right to make assumptions before they’ve walked in her shoes. No one could stand up for her, because there’s nothing to stand up to; this isn’t bullying.
So not a person ever decides to speak overtop of the whispering cliques with words of compliment, or stop a conversation when it takes a turn toward the destructive.
Because it’s harmless.
If sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can’t hurt me, then to say that the pen is mightier than the sword would be a lie.
But it isn’t.
And it still won’t be, on the day that they find her beautiful body, her face smiling up at the heavens where, at long last, their voices can’t reach her.
This is not a story about the bullied; this is the shameful story of everyone else.