The hottest summer on record in District One is the year she turns eleven. It is the first year she looks in a mirror and sees what everyone else already knows. She is beautiful. Somewhere along the line, she has transformed from a cute little girl to a stunning young woman. It isn't vain to say it, because she knows it's true.
The first time she regrets her beauty is the day she enters the Academy.
Not only is she three years older than the typical recruit, but having just lost her mother, she is an emotional train wreck. The directors only see a stunning young woman suffering from a great family tragedy. They miss the murderous look in her eyes when they announce that she isn't suited to the hard life of the Academy. They do not notice the slight tensing of her muscles, the set of her chin. Things that might have alerted them to the one thing they definitely do not miss: the punch she throws at the director nearest her.
She's pretty proud of that punch. Not only has she stood up to the men who want to deny her the only life she has left, but her victim walks around with a black eye for two weeks.
They let her in after that.
The second time she hates her appearance, she is fourteen.
She's already outgrown the other students in her age group, resulting in the decision to place her with an older group. There are eight of them, plus her. Four girls, four boys. The girls are nice enough. The boys are a different story. All of them dislike her, this little girl that has infiltrated their group, but after the initial refusal to fight her, things calm down. Or so she thinks.
She hasn't missed the way the male students look at her, but she never thought any of them would ever act on it. She's never been truly afraid since arriving at the Academy, but she is scared that day. They catch her on her way back to the dorms, and she realizes she's never hated anyone as much as she hates those boys that day, those boys that try to force themselves on her.
They don't get close, and the next morning finds them all in the hospital with broken bones and a nice array of bruises.
They leave her alone after that.
The third time, she should have seen it coming.
Their escort, Claudia, is as much of a blonde bimbo as she herself might have been had she not joined the Academy. She finds it hard to believe that anyone could be that much of an idiot, even a Capitol citizen, but Claudia manages it.
She is only seventeen, but this is her year. They've told her so. This is the year she volunteers. She thinks she's safe, because the four girls older than her are all big and strong.
She thinks she's safe, but clearly she's not because mere minutes after the start of the Reaping a name is drawn and she realizes she doesn't want to go. She moves slowly when they call for volunteers, and she can almost hear the trainers yelling at her to get moving. She hopes that if only she moves slowly enough, she won't be the first one on the stage.
But in the backfire of the century, no one else moves. The four girls hide in the enclosure, perfectly still. Suddenly she sees it all. The whispered conversations that ended the when she approached. The pointed glances when they thought she couldn't see. She understands at once what happened. Those four big and strong girls that were supposed to be her shield, just for one more year, ended up sending her to her death.
Because none of them are pretty. They're not ugly, but they certainly have nothing on her. And she sees exactly what this will all look like in the Capitol. A fighter, a Career tribute, a stunning woman, all rolled into one. Her beauty will be what keeps her alive, what gets her sponsors, what leads to her victory. Victory means glory not just for her, but for her district. And isn't that the whole point of the system?