Ashley Paterno, 27, Long Island, NY

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 Aren't What I Would Call Pretty"

There we were, sitting in our 7th grade current events class, and Jennie* had decided that destroying my self-esteem and body image would be the current event du jour.
"Ashley, you aren't what I would call pretty," she said. Reading my face, she slowly choked out, "...you are kind of cute."
My palms started sweating, and my face turned beet red. My mind started racing through my flaws, organizing them into a detailed list that would soon become a repetitive internal mantra: My glasses were an ugly shape, my hair was curly and frizzy, I didn't wear makeup, I wore frumpy clothing, I hunched over when I walked, I was too skinny.
I somehow managed to maneuver out of this conversation with what little dignity I could salvage, but this mantra, this sentence, has stayed with me throughout my adult life.
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It didn't help that, during my formative years, everyone in my life told me I was "too skinny." And as I got older and put on weight, more people — including family members — felt it necessary to comment. Any change in my body became conversation fodder. I started to focus obsessively on losing weight, hearing Jennie's words echoing in my head.
Recently, I've worked hard at seeing myself in a positive light. I've worked hard to fight this internal mantra that has been following me since 7th grade. It's a challenge — and, for me, a big reason for that is because we are surrounded by stick-thin models, and a society that tells us body fat is wrong. I am eternally grateful for the body positive movement sweeping through our generation, as it helps me to change the way I view my body and my appearance in general.
Each day, I wake up with a renewed spirit. I tell myself that I am beautiful the way I am. I'm more than cute. I'm gorgeous, and I love what I've become. I'm not going to let a former classmate's words define me anymore.
*Name has been changed.
#TakeBackTheBeach essays are meant to reflect individual women's experiences. They have only been lightly edited (if at all) by Refinery29 and do not necessarily reflect the company's point of view. Refinery29 in no way encourages illegal activity or harmful behavior.
Have a story of body image and self-perception that you want to share? Submit your essay to our Take Back The Beach contest here.
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