Gabrielle Perez, 22, 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.

"I Think It's Awesome You Don't Cover Up Your Scars "

I started picking at my skin pretty young. I would peel off scabs I got from playing on the swing set, or I'd scratch at mosquito bites. When puberty hit, I had a bad case of back acne. I would pop, pick, and scratch until I bled. By middle school, my back, shoulders, chest, and legs were covered with scars. Pinched, raised, white dots blaring out from my skin. I acted like it didn't bother me.
During junior year of high school, patches of red, irritated skin began forming in the creases of my elbows. Another patch would appear on the back of my hand. Then on my fingers. In a month, from my elbows to my fingertips, I had dense layers of dead skin. I had open scales leaking plasma, blood, and puss.
People would come up to me and ask, "What's wrong with your arms?" The shock on people's faces would give me a smug satisfaction. I acted like I didn't care I was attracting attention. I acted like I didn't care people were noticing me.
But I did care. Because they were right, something was wrong. "Eczema," my dermatologist told me. "It's usually a reaction to certain materials, soaps, or laundry detergents. Excessive heat or stress can make it worse." I was basically allergic to life.
With prescription cream and gel in hand, my eczema was gone in a few weeks. It was a freaking miracle. Except, of course, it wasn't. The gel I was given was heavy-duty stuff, and it took the pigmentation out of my skin. Once my eczema was gone, I was left with white blotches on my arms.
In college, I had to take an introductory acting class for my major. A few weeks later, I was talking to my classmate Fiona. Out of nowhere, she said to me: "I just want you to know that I think it's awesome you don't cover up your scars. You're so cute and pretty."
Fiona would continue to say she has some skin issues, and she sometimes feels self-conscious, but me showing off my skin was inspiring to her.
My first reaction was to deflect the compliment. No one could know I had insecurities. No one could know I would stand at the mirror for half an hour, counting every scar and hating each one individually. No one could know I believed everyone was looking at my skin and judging me. No one could know my tough exterior was protecting a very emotional and squishy inside.
But she got it. She knew me. I never knew I needed to hear anyone assure me that I was pretty despite my skin, but I did. I laughed and thanked her, and turned the shade of a pomegranate. I will be in debt to her for the rest of my life. Thank you, Fiona.
I still get pimples and blackheads, and my eczema flares up occasionally. I still have scars, and I sometimes create new ones. My white blotches have gained color, and a few scars have faded. And even though I say I have "garbage skin," I know I am pretty.
I have soft, dark brown hair with natural highlights. I have light, almond shaped eyes. I like that my ethnicity is ambiguous, and I have round cheeks. I have great legs, a cute butt, and dimples that get me in and out of trouble. My scars give me some extra texture. And if someone doesn't like how I look or is bothered by my skin, well quite honestly, I don't care.
#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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