by Leslie Munoz-Reyes
It all starts in primary school, when you’re adored for your smallness.
“She’s so cute,” your aunts would coo. “She looks just like a mouse,” your uncles would say as they lifted you above their heads with one arm .
“She’s not eating enough!” your mother would fret. “She looks too thin.”
Your mother scolds you for not finishing your meals and worries about your appetite. She takes you to your yearly physical, to the building that stinks of antiseptic and floor cleaner, but there’s nothing seemingly abnormal with you.
“She can stand to gain a few pounds,” the doctor would say to your mother as she watched you brush your doll’s hair in a corner of the room. “But other than that there’s nothing to worry about.”
He puts you on a high calorie diet and sends you home with a chart that tells you the nutritional value of a banana. And that was that.
Until a few years later when the girls in your class gain an interest in boys. Your mother encourages it openly. “Your father and I met at your age you know,” she reminisced, tucking a strand of hair behind your ear as she retold how youthful they had been. “The boys in your class will probably start making eyes at you,” she teased. You sat and listened at the dinner table, ignoring the dull ache in your stomach.
“Don’t encourage that. Boys these days say stupid things. They do things without a second thought,” your father said, shaking his head. He warns you about them, about their words that are sweet like honey – words that the girls in your class will trip over. “They’ll tell you lies to get what they want.” Your mother tells him to stop trying to scare you. “They’re just boys,” she says. “You were once one too you know.” He knew.
You stood from the table to rinse your plate, a circle of blood left on your seat. Your mother celebrated; your father once again shook his head.
You don’t believe that boys are dangerous but you’re wary of them anyway, and so they left you alone. The girls in your class are less inclined to keep away. They asked and they prodded.
“Why aren’t you interested in them? In boys?” You shrug as you change for P.E., hiding the blood stain on your pants.
“You’re pretty, you have long dark hair that the boys could play with.” You hum in response, changing your bra under your shirt so they won’t see how much your breasts had swollen.
“You’re short so they won’t feel intimidated to approach you. You’re also so thin, with a frame so sleek that it would be engulfed in the arms of any man you chose.”
“Why would anyone want that?”
Why? Because a man protecting such a frail thing like you is what’s expected. How do you expect to find a husband if you gorge yourself in sweets? Your mother expects a grandchild at some point, so of course you’ll need a husband.
With that in mind, you start to starve. No one notices it at first. You start wearing clothing to hide your skin, you begin to skip meals throughout the week, after a while you stop having time for breakfast in the morning. Your mother complains.
“Why don’t you wake up earlier and eat with us? You’ve been avoiding me” she cries.
“I’ll eat at school” you tell her, “I’ll buy something on the way. I love you.”
You begin to exercise, using the excuse that it’s healthy to do so. You leave early to run to school, so your father starts to drive you. You run late in the night but your mother stays up to wait for you. You begin to take longer in the bathroom, doing squats and jumping jacks with the hot water running so they won’t hear you. Finally, you bring out the chart the doctor had given you and begin to count.
“One cup of watermelon has 46 calories, an egg has 72 calories, a slice of bread has 79 calories, a banana has 105.” You decide to only have the watermelon tomorrow.
Leslie Munoz is a sophomore at LaGuardia aiming for a career in accounting. She was born and raised in Queens, New York, to two Mexican immigrants. While literature isn’t a part of her degree, she does have a deep appreciation for it that started in her earlier years when she was (and still is) an avid reader. Currently, she is focused on graduating and later attending Baruch for a bachelor’s degree.