Christy scampered up the stairs of her front porch. Her long, frizzy black hair trailed behind her like her very own Superwoman cape as she swooshed past the front door and into the house. She ran up the stairs, kicked her bedroom door open, threw herself onto her snuggly blanket, and emptied the contents of her backpack onto her bed. She bit her pillow in delight as she stared at all the coins that were now scattered across the bed, along with a few candy wrappers and some glitter pens.
Christy had put her favorite walking shoes onand taken a trip to the neighborhood coffee shop after school. She aimed to dig her hands between the couch cushions and search for coins that had fallen from customers' pockets. This was something she usually did whenever she needed money for important occasions. She could always feel the shop owner eyeing her suspiciously every time she went to the shop without ordering anything, and slid down the couches with both her arms stuffed between the cushions. But no one ever stopped her.
With the coins she gathered today and the money she had saved up under a pile of sweaters in her closet, she had exactly thirteen dollars. Now, if this were any other day, Christy would have wanted to spend the money on candy bars. Christy absolutely loved candy bars. She loved their colors, textures, shapes,and sizes. She loved the anticipation she felt as she opened new candy bars and experienced all kinds of unique tastes. She had recently tried a candy bar that tasted like strawberry licorice mixed with caramel custard. Yes, if this were any other day, Christy would have grabbed the money, stuffed it into her little pocket, bounced to her bedroom mirror, pinched her red apple cheeks, nuzzled her own reflection, and stormed out the door to go candy shopping.
Sadly, this was not any other day.
To understand what made this day different from all the rest, it is important to note that not everyone appreciated Christy's passion for delicious food. All the other children in the fourth grade had always called her Christy Twisty, and she had always smiled at them, thinking that it was an endearing term of some sort. However, on the previous day, Christy had overheard a conversation between the two most popular girls, Sirin and Yasmine.
"Did you see the way the twists of Christy’s stomach were bulging out of her shirt in class?" laughed Sirin as she ran her fingers over her smooth, flat tummy.
"She's so chubby. And what about that hair?" giggled Yasmine as she adjusted the expensive purple wig that she had stolen from her big sister's closet.
Christy had never thought of herself as chubby. She had always found her body to be the most comfortable home she could ever ask for. She felt like Winnie the Pooh when she hugged herself tightly and squeezed her soft skin as she ate honey in bed on rainy days. She would dig her hand into the honey jar and gulp it all up, just like Pooh. After overhearing the girls' remarks about her tummy, Christy ran home and hugged herself, but not because she felt like Winnie the Pooh. This time, she hugged herself to measure how wide her body was. She poked her tummy to find the twists. For the first time in all her nine years, Christy was unhappy with how much space her body seemed to occupy. She needed to grow smaller. She needed to work very hard, even harder than she had worked on her Math homework the previous week, to transform her body into something...beautiful. She decided to start her new journey the very next day after searching for money at the coffee shop.
With her thirteen dollars, Christy wanted to buy a crop-top. Crop-tops were what the popular girls wore to show off their flat tummies. Christy couldn't wait for her tummy to be flat enough to wear a crop-top, too. Maybe her new nickname could be Christy Flatty and she would become one with the glamorous girls. Personally, Christy didn't understand why it was considered to be cool to show your tummy to the world. But now, Christy didn't seem to care about what she thought. All she cared about was what they thought. She didn't want to be an outcast. She wanted to be beautiful. She wanted friends.
And now, here she was. Christy was still biting her pillow and staring at the coins as she listened helplessly to the sounds of her grumbling tummy. If this were any other day, Christy would have stormed downstairs to the fridge and eaten the leftovers that her parents had bagged up for her before they headed off to work in the morning. Christy was almost ready to jump off the bed until she remembered. This was not any other day. Time to focus. Christy decided to sleep all day so that she wouldn't have to feel any hunger.
The following day, as Christy got ready for school, she put on her favorite outfit: a big red bow to keep her long hair up in a bun, a tight black shirt with a picture of an adorable ghost on it, red shorts, long knee-length socks with black and white stripes, and her favorite shiny red shoes. However, after putting on her outfit, Christy felt incredibly uncomfortable. Why did the shorts make her legs look so funny? Why were the socks so tight at her knees? She could almost see the twists of her tummy from over the shirt. Christy Twisty. She yanked out her bow, pulled off her shirt, and almost ripped off the shorts as she struggled to get back into her bathrobe. Christy walked over to her parents' room. It was empty. They always left before she woke up, and always came back after she went to sleep. Christy walked over to her mother's closet and looked through her old sweaters. She grabbed a big, red sweater and put it on. The sweater went down under her knees, was very loose, and completely hid her body. She was satisfied with what she saw in the reflection of her mother's huge closet mirror. Christy put on some loose jeans and old sneakers, then rushed out to school with no breakfast.
The sweater's humongous arms flapped around Christy’s body with every step she took to school. She twirled a little and let the arms wrap around her. As she walked, a memory suddenly crept up in the back of her mind. She remembered the night she had woken up in a sweat after having a horrible nightmare about angry penguins chasing little blue turtles. Christy was relieved when she woke up because she was getting very concerned for those poor turtles. She switched on the light at her nightstand and gasped. A huge teddy bear was lying in front of her bedroom door. Christy wasn’t expecting her birthday gift to arrive so early. Her parents must have wanted to get it out of the way. The bear had long, fuzzy arms. Christy pulled the bear into her bed and wrapped its arms around her.
“I bet it’s lonely in here when all your friends are out in the forest,” whispered Christy as she squeezed its round nose. “I know what lonely feels like. I’ve never really had a friend.”
Christy could hear the sounds of slamming doors. It was long after midnight, and her parents had just arrived home. She couldn’t really tell if they were talking because the sound of her chewing filled the room as she munched on one of her candy bars and slowly went back to sleep. Of course, this was before Christy had ever even thought of the consequences of those late-night snacks. Now, as Christy struggled not to trip over her mother’s sweater, she knew that those cozy nights were long gone.
As the days dragged on, Christy’s obsession with her body grew. She began waking up every night just to stand on the bathroom scale and make sure her dreams of candy and ice cream weren't making her grow any larger. She wore her mother's sweaters to school every day. Breakfast was a handful of almonds, lunch was an apple with yogurt, and dinner was a quarter of a grilled cheese sandwich. Christy could no longer rush nor bounce, and her hair was no longer a Superwoman cape. She barely had any energy to go up the porch steps and grew dizzy often, having to close her eyes until her brain could manage to function again. Her grades were dropping significantly and she was always sleeping in class. Her teachers were getting concerned: they could never get a hold of her parents, though, so they eventually stopped trying to contact them. Christy was never a teacher's pet, anyway, and she wasn't very much of a priority in anyone’s life. Her classmates giggled when she passed by, pointing at the huge sweaters she wore and the black circles under her eyes. Christy didn't care. She knew that they would love her soon enough.
Day after day, Christy grew smaller and smaller. She soon fit into the clothes she wore when she was only seven and a half. She was able to smile at her reflection again. Her legs were getting slimmer, just like Sirin’s and Yasmine’s. She learned how to straighten her hair with her mother's iron, just like she straightened her clothes. She knew that she would soon be ready to buy a crop-top and reveal her new body to the world. Soon, she would be beautiful.
One special day, Christy woke up and stared at the ceiling before getting up and preparing herself for school. She could barely muster up the energy to get out of bed. Her mouth was dry and her lips were cracked. Her tummy was nowhere to be found. Her arms dangled helplessly from her body. Her skin was dry and scaly. Her hair was prickly and tangled. She was ready. Today was the day she would skip school and buy herself a crop-top. She would head out to the most popular shop in town: Forever Beautyoung. It was where all the popular kids got their clothes, makeup and accessories. Christy was beyond thrilled. It took her a few minutes to get out of bed, though. She put on one of her mother's sweaters lying around on the floor, grabbed some flip flops from the corner of her room, snatched the thirteen dollars off her nightstand, and headed out. She was very excited, but her face didn't really show it. She had bags under her eyes. She would have very much liked to run to the shop, but she couldn't. All she could do was drag herself along the sidewalk. Some cars stopped and people stared at the sight of little Christy, but they carried on eventually, thinking she was just another homeless child.
As Christy walked across town to Forever Beautyoung, a peculiar scent abruptly curled around her nose, forcing her to stop walking. She closed her eyes and sniffed so hard that she fell to the ground. Tears welled up in her eyes as she continued sniffing the most delicious scent she had ever sniffed in her life. Christy looked around her and spotted an old lady at the side of the road selling the most beautiful chocolate cupcakes. They were huge and shiny, covered with loops of vanilla icing and fantastic rainbow sprinkles. The cupcakes were lined up on a small wooden table, with a sign above them that read "CHOCOLATE CUPCAKE - $1." Christy could not control her legs. They walked her over to the wooden table, and she stared at the cupcakes in utter bewilderment.
"Oh my," breathed the vendor, staring at the lump of tangled hair that was standing in front of her. "Would you like a cupcake, darling?"
Christy could only weep silently over one of the beautiful cupcakes and drench it with her tears. She wished life could be simple again. She wished she could just hug herself and be Winnie the Pooh again. It was so long ago. Christy could barely remember how it felt to enjoy a bite of food. She could not manage to revive any memories of what it felt like to taste and swallow and rub her tummy in pleasure.
"I can't have one," whispered Christy, sniffling.
The vendor stared at the peculiar girl. "Why not? Is something the matter?”
“I...I need to...a crop-top and...smaller...small...I need to stay small.” Christy’s statement was followed by a moment of silent comprehension.
“Have a cupcake, child. This one’s on me,” said the vendor softly as she held out the biggest cupcake and placed it in Christy’s hands.
Christy did not resist nor did she peep a single word as she walked away from the table back to the sidewalk. She couldn’t understand why she had accepted the cupcake, or why she was even standing there on the sidewalk instead of heading to Forever Beautyoung. Christy stood there for a little while longer, staring at the cupcake in her hands. All of a sudden, her legs began running. The thirteen dollars flew from her hands as she held onto the cupcake with all her strength and ran home. Her legs took her up the porch steps, up the staircase, and into her room. Christy slammed the door and collapsed on the ground. She sniffed the cupcake. She held it close to her heart. She threw it at the window. She ran after it and hugged it. She almost squished it with her shoe. She threw her shoe in the garbage and caressed the cupcake. Finally, Christy Twisty took a bite of the chocolate cupcake: a revolutionary bite. With that bite, Christy felt something deep inside of her. She could feel it swirling, twirling, dancing around her organs, racing through her bloodstream, filling her with warmth, and finally exiting her mouth: "I am beautiful because I can taste." Yes, Christy uttered those words. She was overwhelmed with a deep appreciation of her body's ability to taste the cupcake. She could not stop repeating the sentence. It became her sentence. It was the most beautiful thing she had ever heard herself say.
"I am beautiful because I can taste.”
“I am beautiful because I can taste.”
“I am beautiful because I can taste.”
“I am beautiful because I can taste.”
After every sentence, she took a bite of the cupcake. She ruffled her hair and uncovered her beautiful tummy. She let it bulge and be free. Christy ran outside and screamed, "I am beautiful because I can taste!” She danced all the way to school.
Imagine a little ray of sunshine twirling through classrooms, singing the same line over and over and over again. That is what Christy was like throughout Math period, English period, gym, recess, and even bathroom breaks. The teachers were astounded. The students stood and stared. The janitors stopped mopping. The principal stopped principaling. The world appeared to be completely silent as it watched Christy in her grand manifesto of self-love. As Christy danced her way out of school at 2:30 PM, a small voice coming from behind the school's swing set made her turn around and prance back to the playground. A little girl was crouching in her soccer uniform, whispering one sentence over and over and over again: "I am beautiful because I can run." It was the girl's very own sentence. Christy danced around the girl and took her hand. The two girls rushed across the playground, laughing and repeating their sentences.
"I am beautiful because I can taste!"
"I am beautiful because I can run!"
Their words were unsynchronized. Their dancing was chaotic. It was beautiful.
One by one, throughout the day, more voices joined in. There was a mob of dancers spreading all over town, repeating their own sentences.
"I am beautiful because I can paint."
"I am beautiful because I can sing."
"I am beautiful because I can see."
"I am beautiful because I can read."
"I am beautiful because I can love."
It was contagious. Everyone wanted to be happy. Everyone wanted to be free. You can only imagine how many crop tops, sequin belts, makeup bags and hair products were thrown into the air as sweat accumulated over bodies that refused to stop moving and chanting and dancing and singing. Bodies were being appreciated for what they could do. It was a revolution that started with one bite. It went on for days. Days turned to weeks. Weeks turned to months. Soon enough, the whole town was out on the streets, chanting their sentences. They only stopped for split seconds to take bites of deliciousness and drink gulps of refreshment. The whole town was out on the streets except, of course, the people of Forever Beautyoung. The shop stood there helplessly. Its glamorous lights were no longer lit throughout the night. No one bothered to clean its windows or sweep its floors. Garbage piled up on the outside where mannequins once wore shiny, leather clothes and neon wigs. The workers stayed inside the shop, wondering if the people would ever stop dancing. They stood at the windows and watched Christy’s long, frizzy black hair trail behind her like her very own Superwoman cape as the sounds of revolutionary sentences echoed through their minds.
Salwa Mansour is a student at the American University of Beirut. She is working towards becoming a children’s writer. She hopes to inspire people with her work.