Rachel Newman, 26, 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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"You Just Need To Lose A Little Bit Of This"

I was one of those tween girls who gained all the weight before hitting my growth spurt. Puberty is hard for everyone, but as a Jewish girl, those years were documented with a vengeance — the Bar Mitzvah social scene was really popping, and every Saturday between the ages of 12 and 14, my sweaty little face was photographed doing the Cha Cha Slide in a variety of glow stick jewelry options. During those prime photographic years, I was cherubic at best, and at worst, a bit spherical, especially in the eyes of my trim mother.
Nearly 15 years later, I remember that moment vividly: I stood under the skylight in my parent's kitchen, decked out in my finest Limited Too outfit, and leaned up against a countertop upon which I'd made (and consumed) batches of carefree chocolate chip cookies, with no concept of what calories were. My mother touched my little protruding belly (the aforementioned “this”), and something in me shattered. But while the sting of those 10 words has faded, I can finally articulate why the wound feels as fresh today as it did then: it was the first time I realized that an entire subset of the population claimed my body as its own.
Girlhood is a time where we innately trust our bodies: Without thinking twice, we catapult our bodies into somersaults on a trampoline. We run, we play, we skin our knees, but we know that no matter what, we'll be fine, because our body knows what to do. Look, I didn't get through childhood without taking stock of what the Spice Girls were wearing and how I looked different than they did, but in that moment in the kitchen, something crystallized: I learned that I shouldn't like my body. My body stopped being a thing that I was one with — it became something that took on a life of its own, and it became the ultimate frenemy.
I need my body, but from that moment on, it always seemed to get in the way. I quickly became aware of the myriad opinions that other people held about my body. I learned the behaviors someone with my body type was supposed to exhibit. I gleaned that my personality was what was going to get me ahead in life (which, in fairness, isn't actually a bad thing to focus on). I learned to “dress for my body,” something that was apparently different than dressing for myself.
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The problem with feeling divorced from the sack of skin and bones that carry me around, day in and day out, is that I grew resentful of the only thing I actually need to be loving: myself. I'm a millennial woman, so I've become well-acquainted with the buzzy zeitgeist-y terms that campaigns like Take Back the Beach trumpet. I know all about body positivity and self-care, but how could I possibly internalize any of these concepts when, since 2003, I've been at war with my body, and as a result, my whole self?
From the minute I became aware of all the “this” that I've been carrying around, I've viewed it as a separate thing from who I am. So, in my quest to take my body back, here's what I'm saying: I don't just have a body, I am my body. I am one with my inner thighs, which infallibly rub anytime the humidity is over 10%. I'm one with my boobs, which maybe are a little less perky than I'd like them to be at age 26. I'm one with my feet, which have put me in and out of surgery for the last five years. But I'm also one with my legs, which have carried me across continents and subway grates. I'm one with my voice which has brought me fulfilling work and allowed me to speak my mind. I'm one with my hands, I'm one with my brain, I'm one with my pores: I'm me. I'll shout it from the rooftops: I own me. And you know what that means? I'm the only one who gets to do that.
#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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