Trish Cantillon, 52, 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.

"Why Is She Doing That?"

Bikini. Blue paisley with halter-top and white piping.
My dad took me to his girlfriend's house for a weekend. The girlfriend's daughter was there, too. We spent the afternoon by the pool. I was 10. She was 13. Her bikini fit perfectly across her butt and flat stomach. My two-piece needed constant adjusting and my tummy jiggled and spilled over the top of bottoms. I put my swimsuit cover up over my stomach to hide my belly and heard the daughter whisper to her mom, "Why is she doing that?" I didn't wear another bikini for decades.
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One piece. Tank style, aqua blue with orange, white and black geometric print.
I was self-conscious about my size, and this suit covered everything. The high neck disguised my boobs, which weren't really boobs at all, just a by-product of being overweight. They were somewhat intriguing to the sixth grade boys, so I preferred to keep them covered. This one-piece was the security blanket of bathing suits.
One piece. Racer back, white with rainbow stripes.
My mom offered to take me on a shopping spree if lost weight. I lost five pounds and picked this suit. I felt so good in this rainbow one-piece, I almost had the guts to ride my bike to the beach in just the suit and flip-flops. By the end of summer, the suit began to creep up my backside as I was gaining the weight back.
One piece. Sweetheart neckline, shimmery turquoise blue.
The first suit that didn't come from the children's department. The neckline showed off my now legitimate cleavage, and I liked how the turquoise color matched my eyes. As long as I kept my bottom half covered, I felt like I fit in at the beach in high school.
One piece. Deep V-neck, tie-back.
An impromptu trip with friends to Malibu and I had no swimsuit. My girlfriend offered one of her mom's. Miraculously, it fit amazingly and I felt great in it. I never gave the suit back.
Bikini. Black with neon green band on the bandeau top and high wasted bottoms.
On my wish list for 1989 I wrote, "Wear a bikini." Twenty-four, with two years of recovery in Overeater's Anonymous, I worked hard on self-acceptance. Many months later, I lingered over a swimsuit sale rack. I tried on a black bikini, whose bottoms rose up past my belly button, and neon green bandeau top flattered my neckline. I was no less worthy of a two-piece than anyone else, I told myself. It was a $20 demonstration of "acting as if." It wore out quickly, but I enjoyed most every minute.
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One piece. Black tank.
Planning a family trip to Hawaii for my 50th birthday I wanted one new suit. My mother had stopped wearing a bathing suit in public at 40. I could feel the same impulses closing in. Approaching 50, I did not want to be the mom that watched her family enjoy a vacation in paradise from the security of a lounge chair. Most importantly, I did not want to set that example for my own children. I'd worked hard in recovery for over 20 years to free myself from misguided ideas about body and self-worth. This trip was going to be a celebration!
I bought the default basic black, "I've had two kids and I'm almost 50" suit at J. Crew. On the trip I noticed that the new suit fit more snugly than the other one I packed. It pinched at my thighs and shoulders, but I was undeterred. On a snorkeling tour, in just my bathing suit, I walked the boat, from bow to stern, and stood in line to ride the water slide. Another day, I stood outside the surf shop with my family, pulling the mandatory wet suit over my head, wearing only my one-piece, cellulite and everything else on full display. Bit by bit, I was exorcising the demons of shame.
Unpacking at home after a perfect vacation, the tag of the new suit caught my eye. In my denial about my middle-aged eyesight, I bought it without my readers. It was four sizes smaller than my other suit. I had surfed, sunbathed and snorkeled in a one-piece that was literally four sizes too small. I wonder if the next time the size printed on the tag of my bathing suit is really going to matter.
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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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