Three bucks and a box of Red Hots. That was all it took to get me to flash the fifth grade boys’ soccer team. It seemed like a funny thing to do at the time — I’m not sure why. All I know is, after lifting my thin t-shirt and pushing my nine-year-old chest proudly out for the world to see, I became That Girl. As in, “No, you are not allowed to play with That Girl after what she did. She’s a bad influence.” When I lowered my shirt to the loud whistles and jeers from the soccer field, sweaty-faced and breathing hard from the thrill of it all, I met the eyes of my best friend. She looked quickly down toward the grass and muttered something about having to get home for dinner. I wasn’t sure what had changed between us, but I noticed that afterward the sweet cinnamon of the Red Hots didn’t taste quite as good as I’d remembered.
I came home that day to find my parents in the kitchen giggling, immediately sobering as I walked into the room. My mother’s gaze was stern. “Kaitlyn. We heard about what you did today on the soccer field.”
My father, red-faced and biting his lip hard, was unable to suppress a snort.
“Now, Rich, be serious here,” my mother spoke, narrowing her carefully-plucked eyebrows. “This was not a funny thing Kaitlyn did — why, if she were older, she could be arrested for such antics! Imagine! My daughter, flashing a bunch of boys, like some kind of… some kind of…” She trailed off, shaking her head in disappointment.
“Can’t imagine there was much for them boys to see, now, was there, Pudge?” my dad finally guffawed, unable to continue holding it in. He knew I hated that nickname.
My face flamed as my parents exchanged glances containing barely-concealed amusement, and I turned and fled upstairs to my room. I felt full of shame. Full of it.
It reminded me of the time my aunt Jill had given me my first Barbie. My mother had always frowned upon them, spouting off words like “unrealistic” and “bimbo.” But this one was gorgeous. She wore a blush-pink satin evening gown, a color so deep and true you want to put it in your pocket and carry it around with you. Her tiny matching pink heels curved to fit the pointed arch of her feet, and there wasn’t an ounce of fat on her.
The night I got my Barbie, I remember sneaking to the top of the stairs to eavesdrop on my parents’ conversation.
“Come on, hon, she likes it!” my father’s voice insisted.
“It’s just so inappropriate! Little girls everywhere wish they could look like that damn doll, and they’ll never be able to! ‘Specially our Pudge. Maybe if they made a plus-size Barbie…” My mother said “plus-size” like it was something she could smell.
I scampered back to my room, humiliated, and shoved Oreo after Oreo in my mouth from the secret stash behind my dresser.
Now I stood before my mirror, Barbie in hand, studying my reflection. Lifting up my shirt, I experimentally flashed myself, seeing what I had subjected those fifth grade boys to. What I saw was what I always saw – pale skin and the unmistakable soft stomach roll of… pudge. Curling my lip in disgust, I pulled my shirt back down over the horrifying evidence just as my stomach let out a loud rumble. Narrowing my eyes, I firmly placed my hand over my bulging belly and loudly spoke to it: “NO.”
Lifting up Barbie’s tiny pink gown, I examined, with a scientist’s determination, the hard plastic curve of her skinny torso. Nope, no pudge whatsoever. Suddenly fuming with an anger much too big for my nine-year-old body, I retrieved a plastic-handled, dull pair of scissors from a desk drawer and proceeded to slice through Barbie’s beautiful golden hair. By the time I was finished with her, she had an uneven buzz cut that would surely not get her any dates with Ken. There. Now we were alike, Barbie and I, flawed.
Marching downstairs for dinner, head held high, I took my place at the table, setting the doll next to my plate like an extra piece of silverware.
“Well, Kaitlyn,” my mom said, putting down the phone in her hand, “now you’ve really done it. The neighbors just called saying they don’t want their children playing with “That Girl” anymore. They’re worried their little girls will end up flashing boys like you did.”
I lowered my head, studying the grain in the wood of the table.
“Kaity-girl!” my dad exclaimed. “Did you do that to your Barbie?!”
My mother took one look at her shorn, prickly head and let out a gasp like I’d killed someone. “Now, why on earth would you do that?!”
“Not so pretty now, is she, Pudge?” my dad spoke, wrinkling his nose at the patches of scalp visible on Barbie’s head.
Later that night, I stood again before the mirror. I thought there was a kind of delicacy to the soft curve of my round stomach, the shimmer of Barbie’s prickly head. I thought it was kind of beautiful. I wished someone could see.
Chelsea Tudor writes in Iowa, USA.