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.
"You Aren't Pretty Like Other Girls, But You Have A Great Personality"
"Sure, you aren't pretty like other girls, but you have a great personality. That is why I like you."
The words didn't even come as a shock to me. If I recall correctly, I nodded in complete understanding.
I was 13 years old, had just finished the 8th grade, and my summer crush said those words to me at a party. I was thrilled to have a "great personality" and had already come to terms with the fact that I wasn't pretty like "other girls," so I took it all as one big confirmation.
Years later, as I went through high school and most of college as a people-pleasing, self-loathing, ashamed, and guilt ridden person, I wondered where my need to be perfect 24/7 came from? I looked back in reflection at that summer and remembered that a boy I adored told me my only appealing quality was my personality. Therefore, my personality had to make up for all the things I lacked.
Ingrained in my developing brain for years was this need to constantly be amiable, kind, self-sacrificial, relaxed, incredibly put together, and to carry on the always un-achievable "not like other girls" aura expected of me. I felt worthless, inferior, and unattractive if I didn't have that "cool girl" disposition and sweet presence that every man needed. Because without a perfectly perfected perfect female personality, I was useless. I didn't allow myself to be a mere human. There was no room for that.
But where did this need for perfection come from? Oh yeah, I'm not pretty like other girls, duh! Yet I wonder why I so easily accepted that. Painlessly and effortlessly, I denounced my beauty and took on the cross of living a perfect life all because a middle school boy told me to? Surely it must go deeper.
Could it have begun when, in the 6th grade, I was rated a 4/10 on the "hotness" scale the boys made? Maybe it was in 4th grade when I was teased for being physically uncoordinated and was picked last for every team? Maybe I hated my appearance at age 6 when I overheard two boys describing me on the playground as the "big fat girl."
As a matter of fact, I think that is it.
I think I began my journey in hating my body at six years old. I remember the feeling was like being kicked in the stomach. It was glass shattering all around me — a heart sinking, fist clinching ache. Every comment about my appearance since then has added to the battle, and I don't even remember those 6-year-old boys' names or faces.
I didn't realize I have been fighting a battle that began before I knew my times tables. Before I knew anything, I knew I hated my body.
As I grew and transformed physically, I could never rest without loathing something. It was my hairy arms, my round tummy, my skinny legs, acne on my face, my straight hair, my big forehead, my small boobs, my teeth that were never white enough, my flat butt, my stomach, my stomach, and even still my stomach.
So to boil this down, I decided to push myself into an impossible mold of a perfected personality, hate my entire existence for every little mistake I made, all because a boy told me my only lovable feature was my personality. And I believed that lie because, when I was six, two boys called me fat.
So I make myself suffer day in and day out, walking on eggshells with myself because I was a chubby first-grader?
It's astonishing, really, to think of it in that light. Normally I would say, "No, no, no, it is a lot deeper than that." But that is just an excuse for me to continue living in self-hatred because that's what I have felt I deserve. Since my personality is all I have to give, I better make sure it is great. Every "un-great" act I were to make would be another kick to the stomach.
I can't say that now I am beyond content with all aspects of me. I would love to always be improving mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
But I am a human woman! My personality is worthy of adoration, not because I reach perfection, but because I try to be the best me I can be each day. I am free.
I will no longer be quiet when I desire to speak. I will no longer stuff my anger down because it "isn't pretty," I will no longer laugh at things I don't find funny, and I will no longer sit back and let things happen without having my place in them.
I also no longer see my body and my personhood in conflict. I am a human woman.
I will no longer fret about hairy arms, skinny legs, the occasional pimple, or the imperfect smile. I am a human woman!
I will wear a bikini to the beach and enjoy the sensations of the waves on my legs, sun on my arms, and sand under my feet. I won't let my normal human stomach or normal human personality take my life from me. I have decided that I will be pretty like me and let every other girl be pretty like herself.
#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.