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.
"Good For Her, I Could Never Do That"
I got my boobs in second grade. I had also been the tallest girl in my class since kindergarten. I was used to standing out for being "bigger" in those ways. Then, as I got older, those weren't the only parts of me that grew bigger. I'm not afraid to admit it — I was a fat kid. At the time, though, I had no idea.
I was the kind of kid who took dance classes with all the other girls and laughed while I stumbled around on stage, completely unaware that I had zero rhythm whatsoever. I played soccer for six years and scored one goal. For the first two seasons I played, I would sit down and pick the grass in the middle of the field while the other kids ran around me and actually, you know, played soccer. I didn't care. I was happy. And I was completely oblivious.
I tried my best to keep this image of myself in the back of my mind as I got older. It turns out, loving yourself and not worrying what everyone else thinks is not the norm. Especially when you're a girl. We are instead taught to be hyper-critical of our bodies at all times and never ever for one second think that it's okay to wear a bikini if you are anything bigger than a size two.
Fast forward to my senior year in college. My friends and I decided we wanted to do the whole "spring break" thing, load up the car, and drive the 25 hours to Panama City Beach for some sun, sand, and an alcoholic beverage or two. At the time, I was far from a size 2 and for the beach, I brought a bikini. I know, who did I think I was wearing something that might show my not-so-flat stomach and back fat?
The first day on the beach, my friends and I were playing games and trying (failing) to bop the volleyball around to each other without letting it hit the ground. We were all laughing and totally carefree with Lime-a-ritas in our hands and miles of ocean in front of us. Then, this group of girls walked by. There were probably two or three of them. All tall, tanned, and thin. I bent down to pick up the volleyball that we had dropped (again), and heard one of the girls say in a hushed tone to the others, "Good for her, I could never do that," as they looked at me in my bikini and continued walking by.
This sentence has stuck with me ever since. This girl felt like she had to commend me for wearing a bikini to a beach as if it were some magnificent feat that most people can't do. The sad part is — most girls and women feel as if they really can't. They feel as if their bodies are not the right shape or size or a myriad of other ridiculous things that are seemingly required to wear a bikini.
But here's the thing: I did not choose to wear that bathing suit to make a statement. I did not wear it to stand up to "the man." I wore it because I thought it was pretty and I wanted to — simple as that. If there is one thing hearing that sentence taught me, it's to be proud of the little girl up on stage doing her own thing, and the happy little grass-picker ignoring the rest of the soccer game, and the girl in her bikini on the beach. She did those things because she wanted to and didn't give a rats you-know-what about what she was "supposed" to be doing. That girl has the right idea.
#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.