Cinders

by Jamie Bordeau <LiquidLily@excite.com>

It always catches up with me. It can happen at any time, in any place, with anyone. It strikes quickly and violently, spinning my reality out of sight and knocking my esteem right back on the floor. I can run, baby, but I can't hide. It's in my closet and my makeup case. It's in my high school yearbook and the memory of everyone who knew me when I had those God-awful blue coke-bottle glasses. It's in the smirks of onlookers as I pull the toilet paper off my Steve Maddens after a midmorning run to the bathroom. It's everywhere, it's everything, it's me. No matter what I do or how I grow, I'll never change. I am, and have always been, a dork.

Now, most people would hesitate to admit to being a dork. Nobody wants to admit that they wore MC Hammer pants in 4th grade or that they did the Electric Slide 45 times at Aunt Edna's retirement party. No one wants to admit that they, too, liked the New Kids on the Block and have seen every single episode of Saved By the Bell. Especially when you're 19, like I am, in a hipster arts school in Boston, MA, where tight black pants and an I'm-cooler-than-you attitude seem as necessary as oxygen -- in short, a college city, filled with young hipsters who would rather die than admit who they really are. After all, college is the place where you can try to outrun your dorky side. You can go away to school and create a whole new identity for yourself, right? I mean, really, who wouldn't believe that you did some modeling in Milan and dated James Van Der Beek when you were 14? Right. Nice try, girls. I hate to tell you this, but I've learned a lesson that has shaped my entire outlook on life. Once a dork, always a dork.

So when did I finally realize that I was a certified dork princess? I was 13 and in 7th grade English class. I had scored a prime seat right next to the school Dream Boy (thank you, alphabetical order!) and I spent the entire class gazing in his direction through my huge blue specs, fantasizing about our first kiss, running my fingers through his spiky brown hair, and how it would be to date the most popular boy in school. My daily admiration sessions became the highlight of my boring teenage existence, and English class became the 7th grade equivalent of the Senior Prom. I had to look perfect before I entered Room 108, because I never could be sure when Dream Boy was finally going to profess his undying love for me.

Then one cold Monday morning, I settled into my back row seat and flashed my man a smile. "Damn," he said, "What's wrong with your teeth?" Mortified, I shut my mouth slowly and looked down at my homework. "You know what, I think I'm gonna call you Cinders from now on," he laughed. "Cinders?" I squeaked in the smallest voice possible. "Yeah, Cinders, 'cause it looks like someone threw a cinder block at your face."

From that day on, I embraced my dorkiness, becoming a pop-culture princess obsessed with all the silly things that made me happy as a kid. Before I knew it, my dorkiness became my identity, my style. People liked the retro T-shirts I stole from my father's closets. People liked my renditions of the Jessie on Drugs episode of Saved By the Bell. People liked listening to my old Paula Abdul CDs and laughing with me. People liked me for who I was, not because I dressed a certain way or hung out with the right guy. They liked me because I was myself. And you know why else? Because everyone is a dork, whether they want to admit it or not.

But then I turned on Cinders. I sold her out to the Hollywood ideal, where emaciation is the latest style. I figured I could drive her away with obsessive calorie-counting. I suffered through 5 months of anorexia in an attempt to make myself into something that I really wasn't. At 99 pounds, I was consumed by nightmares of peanut-butter cookies and dreams of the day when an ice-cream sundae would finally cross my lips. I spent my days crying and running and avoiding the reality behind it all. I was trying to escape myself. I thought I could run from who I really was and suddenly transform into who I thought I should be. I ignored the qualities that made me beautiful and unique.

When I finally broke down and got help for my disease, my doctors informed me that if I didn't get immediate treatment, I would die in as little as two weeks. Suddenly the world went spinning, the room went dark, and my heart oozed out onto the floor. The choice I had was to drop a dress size or drop dead. So there I sat, 18 and afraid, starving and confused, holding my mother's hand and squinting at the sunlight that streamed through the doctor's window. I knew what I had to do. I had to live.

I spent the next month trapped in a room with girls who were beautiful and strong, yet shivered at the sight of breakfast. We spent the days talking about who we were and who we wanted to be. I listened, I laughed, and I learned. But I wouldn't cry. Something in me wouldn't let go. I couldn't face Cinders--not yet.

Then I took a bite of chocolate cake. The frosting coated my teeth and the soft, spongy layers melted on my tongue. I closed my eyes and thought of my mother, and the marble cake I used to devour on lazy Saturday afternoons. When I opened them, seven girls were staring at me with wistful smiles and the kind of admiration that you a gold-medal winner. My fork started shaking in my hands as I felt a release, a victory, shoot out of my soul. I had done it. I had approached that cake and enjoyed every bite of it. I was the winner, I was the queen. I smiled at the mirror, and the girl I saw there smiled back. Cinders had returned, and to my surprise, she really was beautiful. She was a survivor.

Sometimes it takes a threat to your life to make you realize how amazing life really is. Sometimes it takes a fight with the mirror to truly see the beautiful girl within. It's hard to be a woman in this world. You can't escape pressure. It's in your mother's old diaries and your grandmother's sighs. It's in the eyes of little girls who wait anxiously for the school bus, praying for the strawberry lip-gloss that drives boys wild. It's screaming from the headlines, dancing on the television, and smacking into society with the force of winter winds. Pressure, expectation, beauty, belonging. It's a daily test to see who can make it in this crazy world. If only everyone knew what I now know: the only way to truly be happy is to be yourself.

Style is an illusion, an easy way to grab onto an identity, to fit in with the other kids who are running away from themselves. Sure, you can dye your hair pink and rip your tights and buy the right CDs and call yourself a punk. But if someone took away your music, who would you be? Sure, you can become a walking advertisement for Abercrombie and Fitch, but who's the girl beneath the name? Sure, you can pimp yourself out to the max with designer shoes and expensive makeup, but are you truly being yourself?

So pick up that dusty Abdul record and let it spin. Throw on your PJs and stroll into class. Dance in the rain, skip out of school, dye your hair blue or pink or green, smile at Dream Boy and frown at his girlfriend. Dream, girls, but dream with your eyes open. Style is what you make it, not what you are. The next time your shoelace gets caught in the escalator and you fall flat on your face, pick yourself up, shimmy yourself around the room, and do a victory dance. You're beautiful, baby, just the way you are.


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