Nine years ago.
Snip, snip. The snippets of callously cut hair falls on the ground of the salon. She looks at herself in the mirror. Chubby cheeks, round face, a bit of acne – exactly what most fifteen year olds look like. She looks into the mirror and feels slightly self conscious. Her mother is sitting in the corner, engrossed in her cell phone. She looks at herself again and all the people waiting for their own turn with the hair dresser. The hairdresser has put her hair up in unfashionable, careless pigtails while adjusting her locks to a shoulder length standard style. It’s just a little while, she tells herself cringing at her reflection. I can laugh about this later, she muses.
Except that all herself validation leaves the room when Ronnie enters. With a stick thin profile, auburn ringlets and maybe a little bit of makeup- Ronnie is the fifteen year old queen bee. Ronnie’s here for a haircut and she isn’t with her mother. She’s with her group of like minded friends and Marge cringes again. She wants to hide but alas, midway through a haircut it’s not possible.
Ronnie’s eyes zero in on the girl. It’s predator and prey- it’s the simplest mechanism of girl world. Observe, elucidate, eliminate. As soon as her eyes land on Marge, she nudges her friend. It’s a slight nudge, a barely perceptible tilt of head and a flurry of glances quickly exchanged. All these would escape older people so easily but Marge having been versed with girl world and well acquainted with the language of slight nods and tilts can understand the message. Look at her. What a pathetic mess.
And so the quiet subterfuge continues. Ronnie and her friends clad in fifteen year old obnoxious fashion versus Marge in the giant hairdresser’s cloak. She notes that if she were a three decades older- she would easily pass off as Professor McGonagall.
Until the ordeal is finally over and Marge scrambles to get herself off the chair. Barely even sparing herself a glance in the mirror she’s in a hurry to get out. “You look adorable, Marge.” Ronnie smiles at her and Marge smiles back. “Um. Thanks.” Marge’s smile is tight and her discomfort is fairly evident. “You got lovely classmates.” Her mother says as they walk out of the salon. Marge is barely out when she hears, “Better not make me look as ugly as her.” Ronnie laughs and so does the hairdresser.
Ugly as her. The words remain.
Seven years ago.
Auburn ringlets surround Ronnie’s delicate face and she looks at herself in the mirror, nodding with approval. Ronnie has grown into a pretty eighteen year old with a rather petty attitude to match. But that does not refer the student population from respecting her or seeking her appraisal. Girl world functions in ways that are beyond understandable. Validation is key and Ronnie knows that her validation is the one that counts most.
“What do you think, girls?” She asks, but that’s more of a formality than an actual question. There’s a murmur of approval and Ronnie smiles.
Right next to her, getting her hair done is Marge. She’s still chubby now and her brown hair falls limply on either side of her face. Marge looks straight into the mirror, her eyes are unwavering. Poker face, she’s not willing to show any sign of weakness. Ronnie spares her a glance, a scathing look. It’s a barely disguised threat and Marge knows what it means. This shall be continued in school.
If Marge is tired of the drama, she hides it well. Beneath her now thin frame and bones her heart lays heavy. She doesn’t want to be a part of all of this. One more year, she hastened to assure herself. Then no more Ronnie. No more running around scared. No more books being flung on her face.
“Gawd.” Says Ronnie as she and her entourage walk out of the salon. “I feel fat. I really need some fresh air after breathing that air.” So she stares, straight ahead in the mirror her poker face keeping her from crumbling. This is the greatest wall around herself and she will not allow it to fall. So she walks out of the salon.
Fat, is all she hears.
Five years ago.
Marge’s roommate is worried. Marge can see the thin line forming on her forehead as she looks at her with concern. “How long have you kept doing this after I asked you to stop?” She says. Her words might sound accusatory but her tone is soft. Marge fails to meet her eyes. “It’s not a big deal.” She manages an uneasy laugh. “How can you say that Marge? You lost about twenty more kilos than you needed to.” Her roommate’s eyes widen in concern. “Its not like I didn’t need to.” Marge says and her friend shakes her head. “I cannot let you go on like this. How many times have you been throwing up in a day?” Marge’s guilty silence permeates the atmosphere. “Four, on my worst days.” She whispers. Ronnie’s ghost had followed her long after high school was over. It was a constant, niggling voice inside her head that drove her crazy. It screamed about every little amount of fat that she found on her body. It called her a traitor, a liar, it called her a fat liar. She scrutinised her appearance, she obsessed over every tiny detail. It drove her to over exercise, it drove her to survive on carrot sticks and water.
What had started as a resolve to lose a bit of weight had spiralled downwards and leading her to a state of constant chaos in her head. You, she thinks as she looks into the mirror that night, You were supposed to be pretty. Skinny was supposed to make me pretty. Three years ago. Marge begun therapy about months ago when she fainted in the hallway. Her roommate’s plea had fallen on deaf ears. Until she managed to make her body a war zone. Her body was ravaged with hunger, her skin stuck to her ribs. Skinny was an obsession she developed but she was gone too far in it to control.
Now Marge mainly had bad days. She would curl up on the sofa for days at an end. Each therapy session helped her a bit until she managed to drive her back into the cycle. Unwittingly, Marge gets up from the sofa and goes to the mirror. Gaunt eyes and bones are all she sees. But for the first time she admits, Pretty was never the right dream to chase.
Marge looks in the mirror. It’s a different mirror today. She looks at herself- the critical eye no longer there. She looks at herself and for the first time she sees herself. Herself in all her authenticity. Waist that was not a size zero- and she’s okay with it. Her legs might not be toned to perfection and she’s okay with it. She looks at herself in those jeans hugging her now curvy waist. The transition, all those years of pain, brutality and self harm- who would’ve thought it would amount to this. She smiles at herself and the twinkle in her eyes say it all. Grabbing the clothes on the floor, Marge walks out of the changing room. She eyes a mother daughter duo and just as she passes them she hears the mother say, “Now that’s a very pretty girl, isn’t she Ronnie?”