Spring 2024 Contest Winners

Read the three winning entries from teens across the country.

Jirapong Manustrong, iStock
Emphasis is on the yellow-shirted writer holding a pencil and another person holding a pen reading the laptop screen

Several times a year, we ask our teen readers from around the country to write about a recent story that has impacted them. In Spring 2024, we had a variety of responses from teen writers connecting to stories about dealing with an eating disorder, getting support from friends and family in a gender transition, and missing home but finding community. Congratulations to our winners and look for our next contest in Fall 2024.


1st Place

Alvina Masood

10th grade, Academy of American Studies (NY)

Beautiful Now

Dear Jaya, 

The earliest memory I have of my childhood is being called too heavy to be held by my father. We all laughed because obviously, it was a silly joke but I never took it that way. Instead, I became a shell of myself. I was always frustrated because I couldn’t control the fat I was gaining. At just 7 years old, I was constantly hiding. 

I would cry when old clothes didn’t fit me, and it wouldn’t help when my family would bring up the fact that my belly was sticking out. I looked around at my sister, who was as skinny as a stick, and wondered why I couldn’t be like her. My mom would joke that I got her genes because all her fat went to her thighs too. I resented her for that. I constantly wondered why me. What evil deed had I done to deserve this? Why I couldn’t just be normal like everybody else and not have to worry about the nasty stares the nurse gave after she weighed me? When someone asks me what I remember most from my childhood that is always the answer; the constant desire to be skinny. 

Covid hit and my mother started making an exercise plan for us. She said we’d both lose weight together. To be honest, I was relieved because it would finally help me get better. And I did. Summer of 7th grade, I worked out every day and finally lost weight. My mother praised me and my father said that my face looked “bony.” I even got praise from my family back home, “You’ve changed so much,” “You look fit,” and, “She went to America and got skinny with her mother.” It felt nice; for once, maybe when I stepped on the scale I wouldn’t break down in tears.

 It didn’t work for long though. My heart still raced when I stepped on a scale at the doctor’s office. I still internalized every word that was said about my body. I am getting better but when something has been embedded in you since you were old enough to understand, it takes a lot of time and a lot of effort to let it go. 

You are my example that it does get better and I won’t always feel this way. Especially with today’s insane beauty standards, the next generation of young women must know that their body is their business. Constant nagging and unsolicited advice is the root of body dysmorphia and why so many young girls feel the need to hide because they do not “look beautiful.” 

Sharing your story is pioneering the way for young girls to overcome their struggles and speak out about the body issues this society has created. I hope that one day I can let go of this desire to be skinny so I can stand in the mirror and finally feel beautiful in the body I have. 


2nd Place


11th grade (TX) 

The Best Form of Validation

Dear Kai Arrowood, 

There’s nothing like the feeling of your chest swelling with glee when your binder does its proper job. There’s also nothing like the feeling of suffocation when the dysphoria hits. 

My name is also Kai, and I felt in my bones every word you wrote in your article as they resonated with me. I was bewildered to see on paper the way you described assigned gender as roots inside of you, because never once had I heard an analogy that so truly reflects the terror and pain that can come with being trans.

I know what it feels like to be obsessed with oversized clothing and feel like an outcast even amongst your closest friends—not because you’re excluded, but because of the way everyone else is so at ease in their bodies while you’re constantly at odds with yourself. It’s because I know how that feels that I’m ecstatic to hear you receive the very best form of validation you can get. 

You’re right. Being trans doesn’t mean being alone, but I know how it can feel that way sometimes. I’m writing this letter not just for you, but for all the trans kids out there who irrevocably and truly feel alone. I’m writing to all the kids who stay up at night scrolling through social media to try and fill the strange hole inside of them, and to all those who sob until they fall asleep because something isn’t right with their body. 

Sometimes I hate being trans. But then I remember that had I not been trans, I would have never met all these amazing people who support me and would have never experienced all the moments that made me. 

Stand up tall, Kai. I wish you the best of luck.


3rd Place

Giuliana Vallejo

11th grade, Bard High School Early College (NY)

The Aroma of Home Food Made My Mind Hallucinate

Hello Bhone,

I found your story truly heartfelt. I deeply related to your vivid storytelling since I also immigrated at a young age, but haven’t returned to Ecuador in 11 years. Your description of the New York experience, “lifeless ghosts senselessly floating in the direction of the wind,” struck me. I recalled the pressure of assimilating into the occupied, hard-hearted habits of the city, and these days I have felt much like the lifeless ghosts you depict, obsessed with schoolwork, and worried about my future. 

Reading your story has helped me understand this disconnection to importance. Like you, I try to keep myself grounded by finding any connection to my cultural roots, remembering the comfort of where I came from to motivate myself to succeed in this city. In many ways, your writing style reminded me of Latin American magical realism, my favorite story genre, and as a result, I felt a profound connection with your vibrant imagery. Especially the symbolism of the church transforming into a Yangon restaurant as an emotional response to the traditional food and aroma, this imagery alone unlocked long-lost memories and emotions for me. Of spending my $5 weekly allowance on Ecuadorian street food in Queens, a form of nostalgia for cultural connection and rejection of city customs all at once. 

Lastly among the many impactful moments, you emphasized how one can find community, from a single friend to an entire church festival. This theme caused me to reflect on how lucky I am now to have Ecuadorian friends to share experiences with, not having to rely solely on food as a means of cultural connection anymore. Thank you Bhone, your writing has taught me the importance of a supportive community that inspires you to move forward while embracing New York’s opportunity with open arms.

Honorable Mentions

Kateryna Kuzma

11th Grade, Midwood High School (NY)

The Aroma of Home Food Made My Mind Hallucinate

Hello, Bhone!

I’m currently a student in an NYC public high school called Midwood. I significantly related to your amazing story of migrating to another country and finding a home there. I also grew up in a country where education and lifestyle wasn’t as significant as in the U.S., so my parents did everything for me and my brother to have a chance for a better life.

Just like you, when we settled in Brooklyn, both my family and I knew very little English; leaving us obscure in such a big, diverse metropolis. People in NYC all looked so “lifeless,” my parents often mentioned, just like you said in your story. We had a very similar point of view living here. We both saw people being careless to others, worrying about their own lives not even sparing a sight of warm emotions. But when I heard my language between two women on a crowded street in Manhattan for the first time I remembered home, Ukraine, my people. Turns out nearby on 2nd Avenue there was located one of the most beautiful Christian and Ukrainian churches I’ve seen.

My mom and I exploded inside, crowded with tens to maybe even hundreds of Ukrainians. Later we found out there were many clubs like chorus and Ukrainian school in that neighborhood that I joined and have been attending for years. My family felt at home when communicating with other families like ours. I performed at many Ukrainian festivals which were amazing. Bhone, I’m glad that I wasn’t the only one with such experience, and at the end of the day, everything turned out to be good, just like we hoped for!

Lena Li

10th Grade, Midwood High School (NY)

Beautiful Now

Dear Jaya, 

Your struggle with your weight and ED really spoke to me. Like your sister and you, I was also told that I was fat and chubby. Growing up in an Asian household, my parents weren’t one to mince words regarding my body. I would constantly be compared to my older cousins, who were tall and slim. During family gatherings, my relatives would ask, “Have you gained any weight recently?” or “You seem to have gotten fatter!” Sometimes they would even force me to check my weight in front of everyone. Slowly but surely, I started hating these reunions, the scale, my weight, and worst of all, myself. 

Growing up in the age of social media where beauty standards are so prevalent, while adding on the constant criticism, I felt the pressure and need to conform to such standards. I started restricting myself from eating my favorite foods and found myself always totaling up the calories I’d consumed in my head. I stepped on the scale and when I saw my weight go down, I felt so happy. This would become unhealthy; I would obsessively step on the scale multiple times a day, and my self worth depended on how much weight I’d lost. Although my weight was going down, I felt miserable. There were moments of weakness, of failure, where I would crumble and eat in order to fill the hole in my chest and in my stomach. I would feel so disgusted with myself again. 

But I’m doing better now. I exercise and allow myself to enjoy my favorite foods again. I also journal about my feelings, which I think helps a lot. Although I’m still on the journey to healing, I’m proud of how far I’ve come in terms of accepting myself and my body. 

 Brynne O’Hare

10th grade, Culver Academies (IN)

The Aroma of Home Food Made My Mind Hallucinate

Dear Bhone,

When I moved, the first thing I realized was how not all strawberries are the same. Like the ones my dad would buy from the grocery store tasted nothing like the ones I eventually scooped out of a large metal container in my new boarding school’s dining hall. The ones from home felt like they had been selected with care and cautious inspection of any bruises or mold at the bottom of the carton. School berries always felt semi-frozen and often lacked the same flavor. Every time I would sit down at breakfast with a bowl of them, each cold and tasteless bite reminded me of not only the food, but also the family I had left behind.

As soon as I got home for my first school break, I sat in my kitchen and ate berries. The simplicity of it.

Strawberries felt like a connection to my family, a connection to going to the store and picking them out with my sister, looking for the ripest and juiciest bunch, and digging into them the second we set the grocery bags down at home. 

In the early days of my freshman year away from home, a girl I had recently met invited me off campus to her house to stay the night. I barely knew anyone at this point. We had a great time, and in the morning for breakfast we ate scrambled eggs, with a side of strawberries. Those strawberries were some of the best I have ever eaten- and she is my best friend to this day.

I really connected to your piece. Just like how there are pockets of culture and food all around you, good strawberries have a way of reappearing in my life, reminders of people who love me.