On the last Friday of third grade, I excitedly galloped over to my desk where I discovered a present. My teacher had customized a shirt with the entire third grade class’ signatures written in the shape of a paw. When I glanced at the size tag on the inside, I quietly sat down and shoved the shirt inside my desk, knowing that it wouldn’t fit. I started a new medication called prednisone when I was seven years old. On the one hand, prednisone consistently helped alleviate the symptoms of my myasthenia gravis better than past medications could. But it also came with severe side effects that caused weight gain and hindered my growth, which made me feel self-conscious. As I laid my head down on my desk, I hoped none of my friends would notice that I was missing a shirt.
However, my best friend had noticed. She dug my shirt out from under my desk, threw it at me and said, “Put yours on! We’re about to take pictures.” Although I knew just by glancing at the size tag that the shirt wouldn’t fit, I still solemnly sauntered over to the bathroom to try it on. I closed my eyes and mumbled a few silent prayers, hoping that the shirt would magically fit. As I forced it over my chest and stomach, I felt constricted by the fabric that threatened to come apart. As soon as I discovered loose threads and a hole near the side, I collapsed on the grimy bathroom floor, feeling too embarrassed to even walk out.
Finally, when I had gathered enough courage to leave, I hastily placed a jacket over my shirt just as one of the school bullies sauntered in to fix her hair. I tried to rush past her, but she must have caught my reflection in the mirror.
“That jacket barely zips. Actually, it looks like it’s gonna rip.” She giggled as she applied sparkly lip gloss, and I hid my face behind the veil of my curly hair. I felt ostracized by her hurtful comments and walked away.
“Yeah, you’re back! Now we can take our pictures!” my friend exclaimed, stretching out her arms to take multiple selfies. My heart sank as I looked at the photos and saw my face, which I thought resembled that of a blowfish. After my friend took a couple of photos, I turned away in silence and walked back to the bathroom to take off my shirt. Each time I attempted to lift a section of the tight fabric, the school bully’s voice echoed in my mind. When I looked in the mirror, my protruding chubby cheeks stood out more than ever before. The longer I stared at myself, the more it seemed like my teacher’s harmless gesture to design a shirt seemed like a personal attack on my heavier frame since she ordered the wrong size. I desperately wanted to take silly pictures with my friends and make memories with them, but even their attempts to include me visibly accentuated how different I looked from them.
A few years later, my friend suggested we go shopping together with some other girls for homecoming dresses. I paused on the other end of the phone before reluctantly agreeing to do so.
My friend sensed my hesitation and responded, “I’m sure you can find something in the petites section.” I appreciated her attempt to ease my mind, but I could only imagine there would inevitably be a lack of options in the petites section. As the shopping date loomed before me, I started becoming more anxious. When my friend and I arrived at the mall, she and the others were promptly greeted by a bubbly sales associate who ushered them toward sparkly two-piece gowns and glimmering jewelry.
She said, “I have just the right dresses for all of you.” The sales associate smiled at my other friends, but didn’t even make eye contact with me as she practically dragged them in a completely different direction. Her refusal to acknowledge my presence made me feel insignificant and unwelcome, so I shuffled through dress after dress on my own. The options were a far cry from inclusive due to their ultra long trains and tiny waist measurements. On numerous occasions other sales associates were convinced that I was in the wrong section.
“The kid’s section is on level 2.” Immediately, I imagined my cheeks turned bright red. I wanted to rush out of the store and hide in the solace of my million blankets back home. The thought of abandoning my friend barely registered in my mind as I walked out of the store empty-handed and with my thoughts completely jumbled. I felt like I was being discriminated against for being only a mere four feet and two inches.
“Hey, I was looking for you!” I didn’t manage to conjure up a coherent response for why I left. Instead, a mess of words came out. As I explained, my friend’s mouth dropped open and her eyes widened at the rude sales associate. “You can always get things custom. Who needs these department stores anyway?” I smiled at her thoughtful response, and we promptly left the mall.
Prednisone seemed like a double-edged sword. Although I still struggle to accept my appearance, I’ve learned to stop imagining a hypothetical world in which my body had not been abused by years of prednisone use because that is simply not the reality. I appreciate how far I’ve come with learning to adapt to my ever-changing height and weight. Now, I’ve realized that it is precisely because my body has been through such dynamic transformations that I have learned to love my body at every stage.
Simmy Khetpal writes the Friday column on having myasthenia gravis. Contact her at [email protected].