Carlie Dobkin, 24, New York, 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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"Take Your Shirt Off"

I have struggled with body image for the majority of my adult years. As a competitive gymnast and a woman, I inherently compare myself to others. I'd look at girls in my classes or on my team and think, "I wish I looked like that." Being skinny was always something I strived for, especially in college. Through excessive working out and restricted eating, I lost a lot of weight. Although my new frame didn't look alarming on the outside, it wasn't me. I am strong, athletic, and muscular. I have a butt. I have big arms. The ultra-thin figure staring back at me in the mirror was not Carlie. Gradually, I gained the weight back, but that didn't mean I was totally happy with my body.
It wasn't until I met my boyfriend that I truly began to love my body. When we started dating, I was still very self-conscious. I would make sure the lights were off when we had sex, and I would suck in my stomach when lying next to him. But as I got more comfortable with him, I got more comfortable with my body. I would strut around topless, even after eating three slices of pizza (hello, bloat!). Falling in love with him coincided with falling in love with my body. When he saw me naked, he was seeing me for who I am. He saw strength in my imperfections. He didn't see stomach rolls or cellulite. He saw beauty. He admired my body and showed it more love than I had ever shown it before. The way he looks at me is something I cannot explain in words. It makes me feel like the most beautiful person in the world.
"Take your shirt off," is a sentence that happens quite often in our relationship, and it represents the turning point in my body image. When I take my clothes off now, I no longer feel inhibited; I feel empowered. Being intimate with him has taught me how to be comfortable in my own skin. My relationship with him also improved my relationship with food. We have spent the past two years together eating our way through New York City and always saving room for ice cream. He also encouraged me to start a food blog, which had been a passion of mine. His love for me fueled my recovery. I no longer have intrusive thoughts about calories or guilt from skipping the gym. I look at my body and see an athlete. I have some meat on my bones, but that meat tastes damn good. It is because of him that I can stand in front of the mirror naked and smile.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder and are in need of support, please call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. For a 24-hour crisis line, text “NEDA” to 741741.
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#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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