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.
"What Don't You Like?"
When I was growing up, we didn't buy chocolate milk that came in those half gallon jugs. But, one day, we did. I don't remember why. It might have been on sale, or perhaps my brother had asked for it. I remember serving myself a nice, cold glass one weekend afternoon. The sun was coming in through the slates of the blinds on the kitchen window, making the small space feel extra warm. The milk had a smooth, velvety taste. It was not at all like regular milk mixed with chocolate Nesquik.
"I really like this chocolate milk," I said to my mom, who was loading the washer with laundry at the other end of the kitchen.
"Y que no te gusta?" my dad said, the words pointed and sharp: What don't you like? He was sitting on the couch in the living room, within earshot.
The milk turned sour in my mouth. I put the glass on the kitchen counter and looked down at my stomach. I knew I had gained weight, and I didn't look the way I wanted to. I was changing, and I couldn't control it. My new body was often criticized with little snide comments here and there, and each time it was like a little paper cut, almost invisible but painful. I could feel my cheeks turning pink, my throat constricting, and the embarrassing tears welling and falling without my consent.
I wished I hadn't had the milk. I wished I wasn't crying. I ran to my bed in my semi-private shared room, and I cried without constraint. I remember swearing I would be "good." I wouldn't eat any more treats. I would try my hardest in PE. I would start running. I vowed I wouldn't have another drop of that chocolate milk ever again, and that I would lose weight and I would be perfect then. Then, I would be happy. I'll show him, I thought. It took me years to learn how wrong I was — there's no such thing as "perfect," and happiness means loving myself no matter what my body looks like.
My dad hadn't thought about the effects his words would or could have on a young and impressionable mind, on someone that looked up to him and didn't want to be a disappointment. I still think about that afternoon, even though it has been over a decade since it happened. Since then, I have been diagnosed with anorexia, fought to regain my health after six years of hard work, and learned to accept myself. I don't blame my dad or anyone else for the path I got lost in. I don't think that my dad thought that, one day, he'd have to make me hot chocolate and serve me a bowl of raisins so that I'd get enough nutrients and calories during recovery.
I often think about that little girl I was back then, drinking her chocolate milk. Today, I try to live each day in honor of her by being active and positive, and by fueling my body with nutritious food, and trying my hardest to be the best version of me. That means having my chocolate milk and drinking it, too, whenever the fancy strikes.
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.
#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.