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Photo: Anne Marie Grudem

Essay Contest Winner: Learning to Feel Beautiful

I remember staring in the mirror, examining the painted face staring back at me. Pink lips, natural eyeshadow, black eyeliner, mascara, and soft blush. My parents said I looked beautiful, but the word made me feel nauseous as I held back tears and swallowed the pain away from my throat. My mind was screaming, yelling at me to rip the makeup off my face, but all I did was stand and stare. I was twelve at the time and I remember being afraid to be called “beautiful.”

Photo: Anne Marie Grudem

Feeling Small in the Universe 

I’m dreaming about the Eagle Nebula. Everyone recognizes it even if they don’t know what it’s called — those three columns of glowing gas clouds and baby stars. I won’t remember anything about the dream once it ends but the shape of the pillars of creation remains stamped on the inside of my eyelids. My left eye opens before my right, which is glued shut by melted mascara. I blink stickily up at his glow-in-the-dark star-speckled ceiling – a poor substitute for what I’ve just woken up from. I try to reassess.

Photo: Anne Marie Grudem

Black Coffee

It took me two full years to start drinking coffee. When I was in first grade I got low marks for “self-control.” First of all, why is that even part of the grading criteria for a six-year-old? Second of all, they were right. Historically, I have had a hard time doing things I don’t want to do. Anything that causes me discomfort is generally dismissed unless I decide it’s important. Learning to do my taxes? Off the table. Going to the dentist at consistent intervals? Maybe when my teeth fall out. Monitoring my spending so I don’t deplete my life savings in one month? Live fast, die young, baby. Let’s just say I’m lucky I got vaccinated before I learned how to run.

Street's Sweet Nothings: Max and Will 

We asked Max and Will to talk about their relationship while the other person was wearing noise–cancelling headphones. This is both sides of their story.