May had always been a cheerful, outgoing girl until that fateful day in middle school. She was sitting in class, gazing shyly at Jack, the cutest boy in her grade. May had nursed a secret crush on Jack for months. Gathering her courage, she decided today would be the day she'd confess her feelings to him.
After class ended, May nervously approached Jack at his locker. "Jack, I really like you. Will you go out with me?" May blurted out.
Jack's eyes widened in surprise. Then he frowned and looked at May with disgust. "Ew, no way! Why would I ever go out with an ugly freak like you?" he exclaimed loudly. His friends standing nearby laughed cruelly.
May felt like she'd been punched in the gut. Tears stung her eyes as the laughs and jeers echoed in her ears. Humiliated, she ran from the school in anguish. She refused to go back again.
From that day forward, May's life changed drastically. The girl who was once cheerful and self-assured now retreated into herself. She became convinced Jack was right - she was hideously ugly. If the cutest boy in school thought so, it had to be true.
Ashamed of her looks, May avoided glancing at mirrors. She stopped smiling or looking people in the eyes. She grew anxious and self-conscious, believing everyone who saw her was inwardly mocking her ugliness.
May began covering her face when she went outside, first with scarves, then paper bags with holes cut out. Her wardrobe shifted to baggy, shapeless clothes that hid her body. At school she wore a hood pulled low over her face and stared at the ground.
But the stares and whispers followed May relentlessly, amplifying her shame. She started faking illnesses to avoid school. Before long, she refused to leave the house at all.
May's brother Plawan and dad grew worried. Once bubbly and energetic, May had become a recluse. She spent all her time locked in her room, only emerging for quick meals wearing her paper bag mask.
Her dad tried to understand what was troubling his daughter so much. But May refused to confide in anyone about the bullying incident. The pain of that day was too much to talk about.
Finally May dropped out of school completely. Her mom had passed away when she was little, so it was just her dad and brother at home. Her dad didn't know what to do. May rejected the idea of therapy or returning to school.
One night Plawan came home with a bruised elbow, admitting he'd shoplifted and gotten caught. Eager to divert their dad's anger, he picked on his sister, calling her a "psycho" for her bizarre behavior.
This time, instead of running off in tears, May finally confessed why she hid herself away. She told her family about the boy who called her ugly in middle school and how his words had warped her self-image.
Her dad's heart broke realizing the toll the bullying had taken on his once vibrant daughter. He researched therapists specializing in body dysmorphic disorder. He hoped the right treatment could help May see herself clearly again.
May resisted the idea of therapy at first. She'd spent years believing she was irredeemably ugly. It was part of her identity now. But her dad persisted gently, telling May she deserved to be happy and comfortable in her own skin.
With much coaxing, May agreed to start seeing a therapist once a week. The first few sessions were painfully difficult. May couldn't bear to look at her own reflection. But slowly, the therapist began unraveling the distorted thought patterns caused by the bullying.
As part of the therapy, the therapist had May's family reinforce positive affirmations about her looks. At first May dismissed their compliments, but gradually their words started to replace her own critical inner voice.
After months of therapy, May finally found the courage to glance in a mirror again. She winced, preparing for an ugly sight. But instead, tentatively, she started to recognize herself. The flaws she saw were exaggerated in her mind, amplified by years of self-loathing. Under her therapist's guidance, she wrote down three things she liked about her reflection each day.
When May felt ready, her therapist encouraged her next step: going outside again, while still covered up. She began taking short walks around her neighborhood wearing her paper bag mask. It was terrifying at first, but soon became liberating.
Buoyed by her progress, May decided she was ready to return to school. She would wear her mask at first, then gradually work up the courage to shed it. On her first day back, students predictably stared and gossiped. But some, like a kind boy named Minton, offered encouragement.
With Minton's support, each day May spent a little less time wearing her mask, until finally she walked the halls bare-faced. The first time she did, her heart raced with fear. But the mocking looks she imagined didn't come. Her peers seemed to accept her, slowly recognizing the quietly confident girl emerging from years of isolation.
Bit by bit, May rediscovered her passions for art and volleyball. She reconnected with old friends. She even found the bravery to cut her hair stylishly, wear flattering clothes, and post selfies online, reclaiming pride in her looks.
A turning point came the day May stood up to her old bully Jack. When he mocked her again, May didn't crumble. "The only ugly person here is you," she retorted confidently before walking away head held high.
May's journey of healing was long but worthwhile. She learned true beauty comes from within. While the pain of bullying scarred her, with time, therapy and inner strength, she defeated the distorted views that once ruled her life.
May's story shows that we all write our own narratives. She found the power to tear up the story of being an ugly outcast she'd believed for so long. Instead she forged a new tale of self-love, courage and resilience.
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