Elementary Years

Content Warning: The following content includes symptoms of eating disorders

First grade:

She put on the T-shirt that was on the top of the drawer and threw on the sweatpants that were in the hamper. Bright and happy, excited for the day ahead. She runs down stairs to eat the bacon, eggs, and toast her mom prepared. Leo Matthews called her a nerd at school today, and she happily embraced that word, tucking it in for bed next to her as she read the second book that day.

Second grade:

Her mom promised her she could wear the new dress she bought at the mall last weekend. She put it on, checking all angles of it in the mirror and spun around in it. It was beautiful — a shining yellow, proud and exuberant. She felt like a princess until one of the boys lifted it up, and she felt like a slut. She didn’t know that word yet, but all she knew is that she felt like one.

Third grade:

The glasses the doctor said was a result of all that reading in the dark. She was kind of excited to wear them to school and see what her friend would say. All the greatest writers and brainiacs wore glasses, so why shouldn’t she. Her friend told her she looked dopey, and Leo Matthews called her “four eyes.” Those words cut deeply, and when she tried to throw it out in the trash that night before she went to bed, she could still see the dark shadow of those ugly words haunting her dreams.

Fourth grade:

Finally, finally she would get to redesign her room. She decides on some soft pinks and grays and a gold-rimmed mirror in the middle — perfect for mirror selfies her friend had said. And that same mirror she looked in before swim practice that day, her short bitten fingernails digging into her skin, trying to shove all that fat to the very dark corner in her body. But she lets go, and her skin drops down to where it was before. A floppy T-shirt that is too big for you — that is what her body feels like. She does not eat breakfast that morning. No matter how her mom complains, she insists she is not hungry. She is starving.

Fifth grade:

She has started to take a hairbrush to school. It is an operation — asking the teacher to go to the bathroom to trying to sneak down to her cubby to grab the hairbrush before walking out. She always wets the hairbrush. This makes her hair straighter, so it looks like Lily’s: sleek and shiny. She comes back into the classroom just to hear Ryan say she looks like a wet dog. That night, she cries in the mirror while trying to smooth down her hair until it is soaking and the old mascara she found in her mom’s drawer is dripping down her face.

Sixth grade:

The boys in the grade have started to look at the girls differently. Leela wore a black bra under her white polo, and she had to be pulled over by the teacher. Leela went to the office because she started to cry, but the boys kept laughing. She didn’t know why Leela was crying until the PE teacher called her into her office to talk about wearing bras to school, and she felt like lying on the floor face down. The teacher gave her an extra large sweatshirt to wear in PE so no one would notice; everyone noticed.

Seventh grade:

She tells her best friend that she is fat; the response she gets back is, “I am too.” Her friend is the kind of girl whose ribs pop out when she raises her arms, and she has abs just because she’s that skinny. She bends over the toilet that night and looks down at her belly for the first time and pinches the four rolls of fat that cover the stomach. The next day when she goes to the mall, the saleslady recommends the men’s department because even the biggest size doesn’t fit her. Her mom tells her it is because she is tall, and she swallows this answer, but she is gagging inside.

Eighth grade:

She and her friends have those deep, meaningful talks where they spill all their secrets. But they don’t because they still keep a little of the drink in the glass, the sip that they know they will never share. A story about a friend has spread around, and one of the girls calls her the word that she knew she was in second grade. No one says anything even though they all nod their heads and agree, really screaming at each other inside. They cry and say they are fat, and then they all give a big hug and call each other beautiful. Then they all go home and really cry — their big, ugly, gulping tears that no one has ever seen, and half of those girls stick a finger down their throat.

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