Sheyla O'Donnell, Staff Writer

        Scrolling through Instagram was almost as sickening as putting earbuds in with a soundtrack of people reminding her why she should be self-conscious. Isabelle wished she had the perfect grid of aesthetic photographs of herself and her friends. Isabelle dreams of the day when she’ll have the courage to take pictures of herself with anything other than a filter. 

         When Isabelle was thirteen, she quit ballet because she and her ballet master had finally realized that she would never acquire the optimal ballet physique. She once adored ballet until the baby pink color of her pointe shoes suddenly became the color of her nightmares. Then Isabelle tried soccer as an eighth-grader, yet she realized the girls there were far too cliquey, and the shorts didn’t fit her body the way the company wanted them to. And she hated that; Isabelle hated the fact that companies who manufactured shorts even had bias as to the “right” body shape. 

         Isabelle’s mother tried to teach her that food was never the enemy. Food was good, and it gave you strength. Her body held her perfect brain and her imperfect but tender heart. She should love it because it contains the impeccable soul of Isabelle Anderson. 

        Maybe it was the ballet company and the constant weighing in on her and her peers. They would all leave practice and talk about their methods of starving themselves, so they could see the gleam of pride in their teacher’s eyes. Yet, Isabelle never got to experience the bliss of her teacher smiling at her. That wasn’t to say that meant she dreamed of looking like she would blow away. She didn’t want to look like she would perish because she starved herself and worked out. Even if that meant never getting a solo or even dreaming of becoming the principal ballerina, all she wanted to be was happy. Why couldn’t she be comfortable in the body she was in? Why did the label of calories on the food she wanted to eat at a restaurant bother her to the point of picking the salad instead of the pasta? Why couldn’t she enjoy eating a pastry or ice cream without feeling constantly guilty afterward?

       Isabelle hadn’t always stared at her friends in envy when they wore outfits she wouldn’t dare to wear. There was a time when she was right along with them, uncaring or doing an incredible job fooling everyone, including herself, that she wasn’t self-conscious when she wore clothes that she actually enjoyed. And Isabelle would ponder on when everything took a turn for the worst over a bowl of ice cream as tears streamed down her rosy cheeks. Was it when she quit soccer right before freshman year and fell into a slump? She barely went outside, didn’t work out for months, and allowed nearly all the muscle she had accumulated over seven years of constant training for rigorous sports to diminish into little to nothing. When Isabelle entered freshman year, her wardrobe consisted of oversized hoodies and sweatpants and maybe the occasional pair of leggings. 

        And yes, homecoming had become one of her largest terrors. Naturally, Isabelle was a people-pleasing person, and when all her friends asked her if she wanted to go, there was no possible way she would say no. She had found a dress with her friends months before when they dragged her out of the house once. Havoc roiled in her belly at the treacherous thought of it not fitting. Nevertheless, when the time finally came to zip herself into the deep verdant green dress, it hugged her like a glove. Compliments poured onto deaf ears as all she could worry about was the fact that her friends looked better than her. 

        In Isabelle’s sophomore year, she was finally crawling out of the worst of her struggle with low self-esteem and horrible body image. Her once limp umber-toned hair was gaining its volume once more while the smile she had hidden away under a layer of insecurities. Her best friend since seventh grade encouraged her to join cross country. While Isabelle had found solace in her lonely world, she did miss the feeling of being in a group with similar people. So she joined. 

    And she was terrible. It was so disheartening to feel herself struggle to run a mile when she could do hours upon hours of choreography on pointe. When she had gone straight from ballet to soccer, it was an adjustment, but she managed. Now, Isabelle seemed to be gaining an injury every week. Her knees ached, and muscles that she never seemed to know existed burned.

   She found herself looking around every time she limped while jogging, nearly cringing from the embarrassment when she imagined that everyone on the team was laughing at her. Was she the laughing stock of the cross country team? She had to be. 

    But she fell in love with her team. The girls enjoyed having a dress-up day every Friday while creating a group chat where half the time, their rants never consisted of running or cross country. One girl, in particular, had allowed Isabelle to be freer than she knew was possible. In a span of the cross country season, they went from being strangers to best friends who spoke in almost only memes or pictures.

     She found herself fighting her way out of the extreme low self-esteem that had held her back in the past. She even enjoyed attending homecoming with a large group of mostly cross country people and even found a dress she adored. And it oddly wasn’t made out of typical sweatshirt material! So while she still found herself feeling uncomfortable in the uniform, she wasn’t alone. She had found solace in knowing that almost every girl on the team felt the same way. 

      And then there was him. James was his name. He was on the cross country team. Shocker, she knows. But Isabelle had found her heart being broken by too many boys that eventually conditioned her to believe that she didn’t deserve any better. But then there was him. James was goofy and had a gorgeous smile that made gossamer-winged butterflies swarm in her belly. When her knee started bothering her, he sat down with her after the last circuit in the workout and demonstrated a few exercises to make it feel better, hopefully. While she was still hung up on a guy at the time, the more time she spent with him, the more she began to fall for James. He wasn’t afraid to laugh at himself when he would do something silly, and he didn’t have the usual toxic traits that she used to fall for. 

    She wouldn’t say that a silly boy cured her incredibly low body image. Why would she lie? When she knew that there were still days when she’d find herself cringing at herself in the mirror. But she found the courage to throw the scale in the trash. It was an incredibly empowering moment for her, and it didn’t matter if she was essentially killing the Earth even more. She would always have days when she scrolled on Instagram only for discomfort to swirl in her chest as she saw countless girls with the media’s perverse desire to make a single body type the only body type acceptable to have. 

   On one of the days when Isabelle was feeling lower than low and had shrugged on a pair of sweats and an old cross country sweatshirt, James ran up to her. She desperately wished she had dressed to impress him, but the insecurities were clawing far too much at her mind to even think of him that morning. He was much taller than Isabelle. So much so that he had to lean down when he went to compliment her. 

    “You know, Izzy, I just wanted you to know that you look absolutely stunning today.” 

          Too shocked to speak, Isabelle gaped at him in the middle of the hallway before James flushed and began stuttering, “That’s not to say that you aren’t absolutely stunning every day. I mean, you’re gorgeous, but I don’t mean to just talk about your looks! You’re like a genius too! You’re, like, perfect!” A grin had found a home on her unpainted lips that allowed James to take a calming breath when he realized she wasn’t angry. 

         At the end of the day, pink still haunted Isabelle’s nightmares. She hasn’t bought a scale since the day she threw it out, and sweatshirts and sweatpants still held about fifty percent of her closet hostage. She hated soccer shorts and cross country uniforms, and the way restaurants printed the calories next to the food on the menus. But she also adored her new friends and her old and cherished friends that had stuck by her side. She learned to cherish homecoming and prom dresses and all the sparkles. And she had allowed herself to fall in love with a wonderful boy with a goofy smile and a slight obsession with Kit Kats. She was no longer allowing herself to be constantly sucked in by boys being sweet to her one day and spewing cruel things the next day. That didn’t mean she was cured, or the pain wasn’t there, but she managed it all without the immense sadness drowning her. Isabelle was happy