Sam Paul, 30, Brooklyn, 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.

"He Only Likes You For Your Fat Ass And Big Tits"

A pile of clothes was accumulating underneath my dresser as I planned my outfit for the next day at school, towards the end of 8th grade. I was talking to Nick on the translucent purple cordless phone I had begged my parents to let me have in my bedroom. I told him that I was going out with Justin, a freshman, but that we could still be friends.
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"He only likes you for your fat ass and big tits," Nick said. I don't remember what my reply was before hanging up, but I do know that I proceeded to examine myself in the mirror, pouring over my thick thighs, small potbelly, and too-round butt. I couldn't imagine getting into a bathing suit and going to the pool that summer.
So, I resigned myself to a diet, countless crunches, and a Billy Blank Tae Bo workout I'd ripped out of a copy of Seventeen. I obsessed over my weight through high school, and my relationship with food and my body was complicated and troubled. It was the start of a cycle that lasted several years — one where my self-worth was tied to my body and various comments boys and men made about it.
I eased up on myself when I started college and moved into an apartment in Brooklyn. I binge drank, and ate countless dollar slices of pizza. I quickly put on the weight I'd worked to keep off in high school and a little extra. One night, I stood smoking outside of a bar, and a man eyed my beer gut and asked if I was pregnant. I had hardly noticed my clothes growing tighter before that. Once again, I found myself meticulously keeping track of my calories, and punishing myself with long walks.
When I was 19, I bought an old bike for $50 and started riding to and from class and work. Soon, I rode my bike everywhere all the time. One of my close friends took a job as a bike messenger, and I started spending my nights with a group of messengers at the bar. There was a rebelliousness and a deep sense of community among them that I was undeniably drawn to. Then, a friend offered me a couple of shifts delivering food in Williamsburg. The money was decent, and I got to spend my down time hanging out in the nearby bars. I couldn't believe how lucky I was to get paid to ride my bike.
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I grew muscular, and my appetite was voracious.
"You look like Lara Croft," a man at the bar told me. I had never felt so strong, or had such an easy relationship with food. I rode my bike through college and when I graduated and had trouble finding other work, I continued earning money by delivering food in Brooklyn and packages in the city. I loved the friendships I developed, and the freedom.
Somehow, five years passed. The job became lackluster. I hated riding in the rain and snow. I had broken my arm at one point and had been unable to work for two months. I returned to work. I was afraid of quitting a job that had become so intertwined with my identity, but I was equally as afraid of gaining weight. It is not surprising that the majority of people who quit riding a bike for 8-10 hours a day tend to put on some pounds. It's such a joke for the community that there are T-shirts based on the FedEx Logo that read, “FatEx Messenger.”
I finally quit messengering two years ago. It took a long time for me to come to the realization that continuing to work as a messenger was keeping me from other dreams, and the benefits weren't worth forfeiting my goals anymore.
Through that job, I gained a love for physical activity, and a healthier view of food. I didn't lose those things by quitting, thankfully. My desire for movement carried over into my post-messenger life, but I move for pleasure and not for punishment. I don't beat myself up over missing a workout, or organize my life around fitness. I aim to eat well, but I stopped moralizing food.
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It's a learning process, and I still don't have all of the answers, but I've learned to view and treat my body with kindness, and to be thankful to it for propelling me forward.
#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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