Contest #120 winner 🏆

84 comments

Contemporary Fiction

This story contains sensitive content

[CW: eating disorders]

Breathe in. Let your eyes close. Let your mind wander.

Think back to a time when you were happy as a child. There must have been times when you were happy.

Notice any tension in your forehead. Relax the muscles between your eyebrows.

The time when you were three and your parents took you to a water park. You were scared of the tallest slides, but you felt safe in Daddy’s arms. You loved the bright pink flowers on your black swimsuit, the neon green ruffles around your waist. The river stone pathways bisecting the park, shaded by the arching branches of longleaf pines. Chlorine burned at the back of your nose. Water beaded on your skin and dripped from the pointed curls at the ends of your pigtails, chilling your shoulders where the drops made contact. But Daddy’s skin was warm and the wiry hair of his chest tickled your face where you leaned against him.

Let your jaw go slack. Loosen your tongue inside your mouth.

The time when you were eight and your parents took you and your sister to Pizza Hut. You loved Pizza Hut, back when it was a destination, a sit-down restaurant where the waitresses smiled at you and gave you extra peppermints. It was your favorite place, the distinctive sloped roof and red sign inciting an almost pavlovian response each time your parents’ car turned into the crumbling asphalt parking lot. Your mouth would begin to water and your stomach would grumble in anticipation of the soft crust, tangy sauce and chewy mozzarella that awaited you. This time, you were seated at the best table in the restaurant, the one right in the middle of the room, equidistant from the buffet on one side and the fountain drink machines on the other. Positioned so you could see each new pie exiting the kitchen on its way to the buffet, could be the first to grab a slice of every pizza that called to you.

Release any tension in your shoulders. Feel your belly expand as the air fills your lungs.

The time when you were ten and your mother took you shopping at the department store on the military base. It was the mid-nineties and long floral skirts were everything. You tried one on, lavender with white flowers. Beautiful. You turned left and right, admiring your reflection in the narrow dressing room mirror as Mariah Carey’s latest single warbled softly through the speakers in the ceiling. You felt elegant, like a princess. You couldn’t wait to open the chipped white door and show your mother.

Bring your awareness to your lower back. Feel your sits bones pressing into the floor.

Your teenage years, spending every weekend at the gym with your dad. Muscles burning as he pushed you harder on the bench press, corrected your form on your bicep curls. He only took you to the gym, not your mother or your sister, because you were Daddy’s Girl. Your friends were all jealous of how close you were with your dad; the other men at the gym hid their smiles as they complimented your form and remarked on how they could never get their own daughters to spend so much time with them. Your dad was clearly doing something right.

Now hold the breath. Notice the sensation of your lungs filled with air.

Your high school graduation. You were valedictorian, so proud that all of your hard work had paid off. You picked your way up the steps on the side of the stage, careful not to trip in the high heels your mother had bought you for the ceremony. You approached the podium to make your speech, somber, dignified, in your black robe and mortarboard hat. Your shoulders were draped with a shining gold stole which matched the tassel hanging from the edge of your cap. You took a deep breath, brushed the dangling tassel away from your face. A camera flashed, the room went blurry. You smiled.

Slowly - slowly - begin to breathe out. Let the air slide from your lips.

Let it go, along with the memory of Daddy setting you down on the river rock path at the water park. He'd leaned over your shoulder, reaching one long arm out to point straight ahead. Look at Mommy. She was strolling away from you further up the path, dimpled thighs brushing together below a flowery blue swimsuit. You smiled, were about to call out to her, when Daddy spoke again. That’s disgusting. Look at how terrible she looks. You were confused, sad - how could Mommy be disgusting? Look at her legs. So fat. They’re not supposed to look like that.

Feel the pressure in your belly release as the breath flows out.

Your abdomen was the first place your mother’s eyes always went when she took you shopping. You remember opening the dressing room door to show her that beautiful lavender skirt. She looked straight at your midsection, eyes drawn like magnets to the curve of your lower belly. Her nose scrunched and her lip curled, as though the sight of you smelled terrible. You need to start doing sit-ups. She didn’t buy you the skirt.

Let your shoulders drop as you continue to exhale.

Your shoulders had been hunched around your ears until you left the Pizza Hut, mortified, wishing you could disappear. You and your sister had been arguing about who would get the last slice of the cinnamon-drizzled dessert pizza, when your father reached his left hand back and swung it out across the table. Neither one of you needs the calories! He slapped you both across the face and the entire restaurant went silent. I got them both on the same swing, two for the price of one! He told that story for years afterward.

Empty the lungs completely. Let go of any lingering tension.

The tension you felt, all the times you didn’t want to be in the gym with your father. You wanted to be at home, watching TV with your sister, who never had to go to the gym with your dad, because she was thin. But you weren’t, and your dad couldn’t let you be disgusting. He’d make you stand behind the machines while he exercised, weighted plates sliding up on the pulleys and clattering back down, swapping out with you between sets. Remember - or rather, try not to remember - the time you interrupted one of his sets to ask if you could go home. His arm shot out, his fist wrapping around your jaw, cracking your head back against the whitewashed cinder block wall. His fingers, so strong from lifting weights every day, squeezing your face so hard you thought your teeth might break. The other men in the gym looked away, embarrassed, and continued their reps. You’ll go home when we’re done! But you’d never be done, because you could never be as thin as your sister. It felt like a betrayal when you found out about her eating disorder. She’d discovered the secret to avoiding your father’s wrath, and she hadn’t shared it with you.

Now, bring your awareness back to your fingers and toes.

It was the camera flash that made your vision blur at graduation. It was the giddiness of being up on a stage, about to speak in front of so many people, that made you dizzy. It wasn’t the hunger gnawing away at you, the residual blood rush behind your eyes from the ten minutes you’d just spent in the ladies’ room ridding yourself of the celebratory breakfast you’d gulped down with your family before the ceremony. When was the last time you’d eaten before that? Two days ago? Three? It didn’t matter, because your stomach, underneath your billowing robe, was finally flat. Your hard work had paid off; your father could finally be proud of you. He posed for pictures with you after the ceremony, one arm around your shoulders, and suggested you keep the hat on but lose the robe. It’s not flattering on you.

Well, you were almost happy. 

When you’re ready, open your eyes.

November 15, 2021 19:26

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84 comments

Jessie Hartness
04:18 Nov 24, 2021

I actually work with women and young girls with eating disorders and sadly many of them have been put through this kind of pressure for so long. You captured the struggle, emotions, and behaviors of the girl and her family perfectly. Good job.

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Rebecca Loften
00:44 Nov 27, 2021

Thank you so much for your comment - I wish no one would have to find this story relatable. Thanks for reading it!

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Shea West
04:39 Nov 27, 2021

Ooofff, that was a gut punch! I am a fan of 2nd POV, and this was executed so well. I pictured myself listening to the mediation track as I read it! It brought back memories of times my body was picked apart as a girl growing up. I had a babysitter when I was 10 ask me if I was pregnant because I had a belly. The moment when you think it's mostly fine, and then the dad points out how gross his wife is. That was the moment your story really hit, and you set the reader up well for that. Congrats to you Rebecca on your win, and on your first...

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Rebecca Loften
02:19 Nov 28, 2021

Thank you - I'm sorry for your experience.

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Katie Kanning
19:13 Nov 26, 2021

Hey Rebecca, what a great story. I'm wondering if I could read it on my podcast, "Unpublished, not Unknown"? It's all about giving voice to indie authors' short stories and spreading their reach a bit further. I'll credit you and link your profile in the show notes. People can listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and 5 other locations. You can check out the format here: unpublishednotunknown.com - Katie

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Rebecca Loften
00:46 Nov 27, 2021

Thank you! I'd be honored :)

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Katie Kanning
21:01 Nov 27, 2021

Great! I'll comment here when it's posted. I will include a link to your Reedsy profile, but did you have a website or social media link you'd like me to include in the show notes for you as well?

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Rebecca Loften
02:03 Nov 28, 2021

www.rebeccaloften.com - thanks!

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Katie Kanning
16:39 Nov 29, 2021

It's officially up! Hope you enjoy it! unpublishednotunknown.com

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Rebecca Loften
18:51 Nov 29, 2021

Wow, really well done! Your cadence and tone were perfect - made me really emotional listening to it. The way you delivered the last line was haunting. I'm so excited to share this with everyone I know :) Thank you for highlighting my work!

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Katie Kanning
22:39 Dec 28, 2021

Hi there! I’m reaching out to all of the authors who have been featured on the UNU podcast. I have a few new opportunities for you! In the quick and easy form linked below, I am offering: 1. A chance to schedule a casual interview with me for the podcast. This will be a basic get to know you, a way for you to advertise your other writing (books if you have them), and a time to laugh and have fun. They would be less than an hour, most likely under 30-min. Whatever works for your schedule. 2. A personal bio page for you on the website I...

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Tati Ana
19:03 Nov 27, 2021

I’m a bit late to the party, but this is the first story I fell on, and honestly, it made my heart ache. For how long have girls been harassed because of their looks ? How much silly parents are pure asshats, either like Dad who isn’t reluctant to use violence, or even Mum, passive as hell when her two daughters are killing themselves ? I myself was intensely fat-shamed be it by family or ‘friends’ (don’t speak anymore to any of them) and it hits hard. Thank you for this awesome story, and congrats for your win :)

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Rebecca Loften
02:21 Nov 28, 2021

I'm sorry for your experience - thank you for reading my piece.

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Alexa Holloway
06:06 Dec 30, 2021

You were just amazing. you really captured the essence of the harsh reality that many people live. i shed a tear. wow. great job. I am just a sucker for 2nd person point of view. The way the dad told her and her sister that they didn't need the calories was just heartbreaking. I've been told stuff like that before. "You don't need the carbs." "You really ate all that?" "Didn't you just eat?" "You don't need more food." It made me feel sad. Anyway, great job. I just loved it<3. Have a great day! :]

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Lindsey Le Blanc
23:28 Dec 21, 2021

Rebecca, I just came across this story and had to comment. This is incredible, I'm so glad you won. The switch to the painful memories almost took my breath away. You executed that so perfectly. I just want to hug that girl and tell her she is perfect. Such a beautiful, devastating piece about some tough subjects.

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Anna Tarnacka
14:28 Dec 21, 2021

Hey Rebecca, just wanted to give you some feedback and further motivation, 'cause I find this brilliant! I am honestly impressed by the way you came up with the text composition. I like to do yoga sometimes, and those 'inhale exhale' commands reminded me the ones of real fitness youtubers :). Also, you managed to capture a ton of emotional message in such a short work. If I were you, I would try to publish it so that young people saw it - like in a school newspaper or sth.

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Emmanuel Dean
04:19 Dec 15, 2021

wow. I absolutely loved this. This shows how family relations shape our perception of ourselves. I love the play on combining meditation to engage the reader within each paragraph break. I also loved the subtle way Rebecca revealed the subject's father as the antagonist. Thank you for this!

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Kenna Alexander
22:49 Dec 10, 2021

My heart ached while reading this story! The fact that this isn't uncommon makes me very sad! Great job writing this piece, especially since it was a sensitive topic. If you don't mind me asking, how did you come up with the idea for this story, or chose this prompt? Congrats on your win! You deserve it!

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17:28 Dec 07, 2021

Oh my goodness, this story is so relatable. I actually have dealt with anorexia and it's not fun. The story on the other hand is a work of art. You pulled out emotions of the reader and the character. Great writing. xoxo, Jexica

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Clair Whitmer
21:59 Nov 27, 2021

Many things to like in this story! But one technical element stood out to me. I'm often challenged by moving backwards and forwards in time in a character's mind. You handled the flashforward/flashback very effectively so that the emotion of the flashback was powerful but the reader didn't get confused on the timeline.

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Rebecca Loften
02:20 Nov 28, 2021

Thank you!

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Deborah Razz
01:21 Jan 02, 2022

Riveting! Bravo!

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Alexandra K
14:53 Dec 07, 2021

This was beautifully written. You did a great job at writing such a difficult topic.

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Ezra Bicknell
21:19 Dec 06, 2021

I just don't have any words, it's just absolutely beautiful. If you don't mind me asking, what was the prompt for this story?

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19:13 Dec 06, 2021

A well done piece, I'm awestruck. I've never had an eating disorder or a father that cruel, but I could really feel the pain this young woman was going through. It's so sad that she couldn't ever feel beautiful within her own family group, that should be a safe space before you're thrust into a judgemental world.

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00:08 Dec 06, 2021

This was a great story! I loved every single part of it. Keep going and terrific job!

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Jon Butters
00:21 Dec 04, 2021

This is phenomenal. I'm sitting here trying to say more than that, and I can't. It's just really really good. And my imposter syndrome revs back up every time I read it. It's great work.

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Georjia Solomon
04:04 Dec 03, 2021

it had a big twist put the story plot was so amazing i felt as if i was that girl i hope no one have to relate

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Sarah Kreiger
00:32 Dec 02, 2021

I love a good story that really plays with your heart strings. Well written and a well deserved win!

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Beatriz Jenson
18:47 Nov 29, 2021

this is amazing, i love the story so much! you should've seen my expressions when i dove deeper into the story and discovered the dark side of it haha!

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