Watching pursed lips and piercing eyes move up and down your body even though you wore something inconspicuous, something that shouldn’t evoke any remarks. You know that after the hello’s and the good-to-see-you’s, the next words that tumble out will hit their targets: your stomach, your waist, your thighs. Your parents tell you later that this is just the way they are, the way the culture is.
Running your hands through racks of cropped hemlines and snug fabrics even though all the fashion blogs tell you they are not to be worn on bodies like yours. You know that the way you dress has to cancel out the negatives, to trick eyes into an acceptable form of yourself. Your outfit has to make you feel safe because the alternative is that you’ll expose yourself, negatively, inevitably.
Looking frantically around the small stall even though it’s locked from the inside and you are all alone. You know this is a space where you are completely vulnerable. You flush with embarrassment underneath the unflattering light as you hope for your body to magically conform to the unforgiving denim that you swore was in your size.
Gritting your teeth as some glossy trainer proclaims that you can do anything for sixty seconds even though you just hate doing burpees. You know that you have to stick to an expert’s plan if you want those results. You follow up with a measured meal that you have to keep track of lest you go over an arbitrary, infallibly calculated bracket.
You think you’ll find it, after you’ve lost some magic number.
You think losing consists only of inches and pounds, of hating yourself into a version that you’ll love.
But then you think, “Am I losing something more?”
So now you establish boundaries by not welcoming comments about your appearance. Now you dress for whatever mood you’re in as long as you feel comfortable. Now you know without a doubt that size is a wildly inconsistent number. Now you move in ways that you actually enjoy, in ways that make you feel strong. Now you eat to fuel and not to punish.
You think to yourself, “You are worthy no matter what.”
You think of what you can gain rather than what you could lose.
You’ve found something better.
Contributed by Ciermae Allen
“Lost and Found” is the theme for Humainologie’s inaugural Short Story Festival, a festival that celebrates a literary form shaped by oral storytelling traditions throughout time and from communities all over the world. To learn more about the festival or to submit a story before the October 31, 2021 deadline, go to: http://www.humainologie.com/short-story-festival/.