Rite of Passage

By Paige Wyatt
TW/CW: The following piece discusses bullying and disordered eating. 

The first time a boy ever paid attention to Jamie was in Kindergarten. His name was Daniel and he pushed her into a mud puddle at recess. When she ran to her teacher, tears streaking her mud-stained face, the older woman leaned down and wiped away Jamie’s tears with a handkerchief. “Oh, dear,” her teacher had cooed, “Daniel only did that because he likes you.”

That was the first time she learned that love was pain. 

Her father told her boys didn’t like it when girls talked too much. Her mother taught her to put on makeup when she was eight. After she hit puberty at ten, her mother took her straight to the doctor. Her doctor had pulled out a chart at her yearly physical and explained that, according to something called the BMI chart, she was considered “borderline obese.” She started the Atkins diet that day. 

That was the first time she learned how to restrict. 

Jamie’s mother stopped hiding her disgust for her daughter’s body when Jamie was fourteen. “You could lose twenty more pounds and this would be easier,” her mother had sighed as she stood, her hands on her hips, staring at Jamie in the mirror of the fitting room. She had spent the afternoon crying as they tried on dress after dress in preparation for the eighth grade dance, her mother’s mouth pinching tighter and tighter with every fitting. The dress Jamie really wanted–a short, ruffled, light blue cocktail dress–wasn’t big enough for a girl with hips like hers.

That was the first time she learned that the way her body looked hurt the people she loved. 

Every food was forbidden. Everything had too much sugar, fat, or, God forbid, carbs. Jamie subsisted on celery, carrots, and cherry tomatoes for two weeks. The cleanse worked. Her mother praised her for her weight loss. “You’ve worked so hard, honey,” she said as she handed Jamie an elegantly wrapped box. “You deserve this.”

Jamie ripped off the golden paper and tore open the white box. The blue cocktail dress was inside. She smiled. “Thank you, Mom.” 

Her mother spent hours doing her hair and makeup, and the dress fit like a dream. For the first time in her life, Jamie was sure she looked almost as pretty as the other girls at school. When Daniel rang the doorbell to pick her up for the dance, the first thing he said was, “Wow, that dress looks like a loofa on you.” He laughed. 

That was the first time she learned that boys will be boys. 

Jamie got her first cell phone when she was fifteen, and with it, social media. She followed all of her favorite bands, writers, and celebrities. Then she followed her friends. When she started exploring the “suggested for you” page, she found Grace.

Grace had an entire account dedicated to her weight loss journey, and the first photo was of a fat Grace in jeans and a t-shirt with a plate of barbeque in her hand side by side with a now slimmed, toned Grace in short shorts and a sports bra, posing in the mirror at the gym. Jamie clicked on the photo and read the caption. “I was miserable at 230 pounds. I was literally killing myself with food. But then I decided to cut out all the poison: carbs, fats, and sugars. With a simple diet change and walking for 45 minutes a day, I lost 100 pounds. If I can change my life, so can you!” 

 Jamie felt something inside her shift. She was 235 pounds. She looked like fat Grace. She pressed the “follow” button.

That was the first time she learned that she could fix herself for good.

Jamie threw herself into fitness. She watched all of Grace’s videos about food and exercise. She spent hours walking on the treadmill her parents bought her for her birthday two years earlier. She carefully logged every calorie she consumed. She punished herself with more workout time when she went over the allotted 1200 calories a day. She learned to like feeling hungry. Every missed meal was one step closer to her perfect body.

Jamie was sixteen when she reached her goal weight of 130 pounds, just like Grace. The day the scale told her she’d succeeded, she felt lightheaded and giddy for a few minutes. Then, she stared at herself in the mirror. She frowned. She wished her boobs were a little bigger. Now that she had lost all the weight, she had extra skin around her arms. She’d never be able to wear sleeveless shirts again.

Later that week at school, her PE teacher announced that their class would be spending the next week practicing swimming. Even though Jamie had lost the weight, she still dreaded putting on her bathing suit and revealing her flabby arms. As she walked out to the pool, she pulled her towel around her shoulders like a blanket.

“Alright everyone,” the teacher said, her voice echoing in the cavernous natatorium, “get into the water.”

Her stomach sloshing with anxiety, Jamie pulled the towel away and placed it on the bench. Daniel was next to her, staring at her body from top to bottom and back up again. “Damn. You look good, babe. Want a ride home after school?”

Daniel’s idea of a ride home was driving aimlessly around town as he vaped and played music. He left the windows down and the soft spring wind ruffled Jamie’s hair. She felt his fingertips against the nape of her neck and she tingled at the attention. After a few hours of driving, he pulled over in a park as the sun set. 

Jamie thought this was it. She would finally get her romantic moment, the one she saw all the thin girls have in the movies. Kissing boys at sunset in the park was something only thin girls were allowed to have, and now that she was one, she could experience it.

Daniel turned the music down and ran a finger along the edge of her jaw. “Hey,” he said, looking at her through a curtain of dark hair. She met his eyes, her face burning with anticipation. “You’re so hot now. Like, when I saw you in your bathing suit today, all I could think about was doing this.” 

He moved closer until his face was inches from hers. Her heart pounded so loud that she was sure he could hear it. She felt his warm breath against her lips and closed her eyes. They kissed, and it was hot and wet and sticky like a humid day in the middle of August. His hands moved to her hips and she leaned into his touch, feeling beautiful for the first time in her life because he wanted to touch her body. 

That was the first time she learned that having sex was validating.

Daniel dropped her off way past her curfew, but she was drunk with the scent of him, the feeling of his skin against hers. She had a boyfriend for the first time. Her life really was turning around. 

“Text you later,” he said when he pulled up to her house. He kissed her, his lips branding her as his. He pulled away before she could reply.

Daniel didn’t text her later. 

Jamie watched the hallways all morning the next day, hoping to catch a glimpse of Daniel. They only had gym class together, but she hoped she would see him before then. She checked her phone every couple of minutes, her finger hovering over his name more than once in the temptation of initiating a conversation. She resisted. Her friends told her she shouldn’t be the first one to text. It would look too desperate. 

Gym was her last class, and when she walked into the pool area, she wore her towel around her waist. She might not have liked her arms, but Daniel thought she was hot, so she wanted to show off her body for him. 

When the locker room door opened and the boys filed out, her blood rushed like a raging river in her veins. She tried not to stare at the stream of classmates walking over to the side of the pool, but she couldn’t help it. Her chest tightened with excitement when she saw Daniel, his tousled hair swept across his forehead and his swim shorts hanging haphazardly from his hips. They made eye contact and she smiled her prettiest, flirtiest smile, hoping her makeup still looked perfect despite the warmth in the room.

Daniel met her eyes and laughed. The boys standing around him laughed, too. Jamie’s face fell in confusion.

“Dan, let me ask you something. Did her flappy arms make a smacking noise while you were hitting it last night?” one of the boys said, jerking his thumb at her. Daniel laughed and shook his head while the other boys joined in. 

“Bro, if I were you I’d make her keep her shirt on,” another boy smirked.

Jamie felt the tears come before she could stop them. She wanted to run. She wanted to scream. All she could do was stare at Daniel’s face as he laughed at their cruel jokes.

That was the first time she learned about vengeance.

Jamie was sixteen when she punched Daniel in the face so hard that he rocketed back and busted his head on the concrete outside of school. Blood was everywhere. People screamed. Some kids got out their phones and took a video. The teacher nearby stood still, stunned at the sight of the blood, her mouth hanging open. 

Daniel groaned and tried to get up, but she hit him too hard. He fell back down. He would be fine, but that wasn’t the point. Jamie knew she would be suspended. Maybe even expelled. That wasn’t the point, either.

That was the first time she learned that she could take her power back. 

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