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 Don't Look Sick, Though"
"You don't look sick, though. Maybe you should try eating vegan, and it will help you feel better about yourself." I can still hear the words ring in my heart like I hear the sound of my alarm every morning. Hearing those words, when I was 13 years old and hesitant to go out in public in my swimsuit, was like buying a ticket to the grand opening of the "Welcome to my mental illness" phase of life. I was being vulnerable and open about my body and thoughts, sharing my deepest insecurities with an older adult, and their simple response shook me to my core, and would change the way I thought about myself, my body, and my food until I was 28.
I didn't want to develop an eating disorder; I didn't want to hide and shadow my body for years; and I didn't want to judge myself based on what I ate. But, in this world and society, people seem to think its okay to judge and group others based on how they look and what their food choices are. It's like we have this weird unsaid excellence that has silently and internally been agreed upon based on how we choose to eat or workout.
I just want to point out, after years of trying to fix and find myself in fads, body, and food, that you are not a better person because you eat whole, clean, or unprocessed. You aren't a better human because you eat paleo, vegetarian, or vegan. And you are not a better person because you choose to eat low carb, high carb, low fat, high fat, no sugar, or junk-free. You are a human. Your worth is not defined by food or what you chew on; it's not defined by how your body looks, what size you are, or what your outer appearance says about you. It's defined by how you feel, your character, what your thoughts are, and what you do with your life. None of this outer stuff makes you superior.
People that truly matter in your life and want the best for you don't care how you look in a swimsuit. They don't care what you eat or how you work out, and they don't care about what new diet fad your doing. What they do care about, however, is what's inside and how you feel. They care about the memories you make with them, and they care about your personality.
Sometimes I think back to that day, if anything would have changed about how I viewed my worth or myself if someone I looked up to would of been aware and able to say: "How do you feel? Are you okay? That matters." I will never know for sure, but what I do know now is that whenever I have someone I love, especially someone who I know looks up to me, ask any of those vulnerable questions. I always answer with what I wish was said to me: "How do you feel?"
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.