Allyson Byers, 26, Los Angeles, CA

This year, as part of our Take Back The Beach program, we are asking YOU to tell us about your experiences with body talk and self-perception. Below, one reader's story.
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"You Should Wear This"

My friend held up a sleeveless dress that had been pushed to the back of my closet. A dress that I hadn't worn since being diagnosed with Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS), a horrible and embarrassing disease that has left my underarms full of boils and scars. To be honest, I had meant to throw that dress out. I hated that it reminded me of my life before this disease. My closet transformed to one filled with long-sleeve shirts and baggy T-shirts. All of my new dresses had sleeves. I wouldn't be caught dead showing my underarms. Because shaving causes me to have flare-ups, I just stopped. What was the point anyway? I would pretend that this part of my body didn't exist.
I remember looking at my friend with tears forming in my eyes. "I can't wear this," I said as I shoved the dress back into my closet. She knew about my HS, but had never seen the open wounds or the scars. I told myself that she wouldn't have suggested that dress if she had known what lies underneath my shirt. She encouraged me to just try it on. I finally relented. I emerged from the bathroom in the horrible dress, but she didn't even bat an eye. "See? It looks great. Why wouldn't you wear that? Your boobs look amazing in it." I walked over to a mirror. While all I could see were scars peering out from under my arms, she saw beauty. I just stared at her. "This is why I can't wear this dress." I lifted my arms. "So? It's a dark bar. Plus, who cares? It doesn't look bad at all. Have some confidence."
And you know what? I walked out of the house that night in a sleeveless black dress... and my life didn't end. No one commented on my appearance or seemed to even notice the scars. For a few minutes, I even lifted my arms as I danced to a song. I now wear sleeveless shirts on the weekends when I'm running errands or hanging out with friends. It's still hard to wear them to work (I'll always wear a cardigan, even if it's 90 degrees out), but it's all about baby steps. My scars remind me that I'm fighting everyday to beat this disease — and I'm not going to let it win.
The sleeveless dress now hangs in the front of my closet. For those nights when I want to just let loose and show my true self, scars included.
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