Jessa Toth, 26, Syracuse, 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.

"How To Get A Bikini Body: Step 1 Put A Bikini On Your Body"

I've never been very confident in my body shape. I was a ballerina for 20 years and worked very hard to stay in shape, but I never felt like I was tall enough, or thin enough, or that my stomach was flat enough. I am naturally a petite person, but I've suffered from body dysmorphia since high school.
I went to school in a very small town, and as the new girl in 8th grade, I didn't really fit in because I traveled a lot and came from a bigger area. Girls especially in high school were very cruel and often didn't understand me or the way I dressed and really made me feel like I wasn't good enough. Even in college, the emphasis on having the perfect Victoria's Secret model body was a big thing with my friend group, and really consumed my eating habits.
But, one day, I found this quote on Pinterest, and it really changed my outlook on physical beauty. It isn't about your suit size, or if you have a flat tummy or the thinnest legs — it's about loving your "flaws" and seeing them as ways you are unique. This quote has also helped me bring self-acceptance and positivity to my blog. I know I can't be the only one that spent most of my life picking apart what I hate about my body.
And even though I still struggle daily, if I can help one person love themselves the way they should, then I've done something good. I love sharing this quote with my girlfriends and coworkers. If anyone says they hate swimsuit shopping, I tell them to just put on that bikini and flaunt it!
#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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