Kalina Newman, 20, Arlington, VA

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.

"Dang, You Look Like A Man In That Dress!"

He meant it as a compliment.
Yet, as a 17-year-old girl, that sentence hit like a ton of bricks.
He was a friend, a fellow student athlete who knew my daily workout grind better than anyone. That day, I had worn a beautiful tan dress to school, and when I spotted him while I was walking home on the other end of the street, I couldn't help but feel pretty as I strode down the sidewalk.
But then, he said it. The sentence that followed was, "I mean, damn, your calves look ripped!" I didn't hear it too well, because the anxiety that crept up from my stomach was louder.
That was three years ago. Seven years prior, when I was 10 years old, a scale entered my household for the first time. I remember how cold it felt when I gingerly stepped on it, how it seemed so scary. What I read underneath my toes baffled me. The number was far higher than I had ever imagined. Yet, I told myself, who was I to be surprised? I had always stood out, parents joked at how I was a head taller than their children. When I was 9 years old, my doctor informed me that my “larger bone structure” would require extra amounts of calcium. As I stared down at the numbers on the scale, I thought back to that doctor's visit. Her words translated into a word that would consume my mind for years to come: “fat."
Flashing forward again to that moment at 17. At the time, I was fully immersed as junior captain on my high school's rowing team. I now row in college. My ripped calves have provided me with opportunities I never would have imagined as a vulnerable 10-year-old girl. My strong arms have given me experiences I could have only dreamed about.
As I move through this summer's unavoidable swimsuit season, I make sure to catch myself in moments of doubt. I try to realize that feeling relieved that the one-piece bathing suit trend covers my stomach is definitely not the best mindset to have (because even though I look great in a one-piece, I still look just as good in a bikini), and I actively work to shut down creeping thoughts of body negativity. And it's actually helpful for me to remember that moment on the street when I was 17.
Yes, my calves look ripped and, yes, I wouldn't have it any other way.
#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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