Karen Wang, 23, Pleasanton

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 Need To Remember To Love Yourself First Or No One Will"

I wake up to the usual procession of two immaculately timed alarms. Blinking hard, I rotate the knob on my pink Himalayan sea salt lamp to counteract the already dawning dose of S.A.D. or seasonal affective disorder (self-diagnosed, of course). The curtains open at my command and bring streams of light tumbling into the otherwise shaded and stale room. Reaching for my phone, I brace myself for the several dozens of notifications and reminders silenced during my slumber.
I scroll, tap, stare, and sigh. Like most mornings, I find myself double-tapping images of size 0 swimsuit models with perky tits and huge asses. I often play the game "fake or real" to determine just how much envy I should be devoting to a particular individual, or even how hard I have to push myself that day. Knife-edge abs, golden complexion, pursed lips, tiny physiques; I dig deeper into the pit of misery and self-loathing. After what seems like the entire morning, I chuck my phone to the side and roll clumsily out of bed. I have a plan for the day, and you can bet that getting a workout in is a top priority.
"Yoga isn't until 6:30 tonight, so I should probably hit the gym now to get some cardio in," I think.
While a research paper for graduate school is threatening the course of my day, I decide to put that on the back burner until I can come to terms with staring at my computer screen for hours on end. The day goes on with lackluster: breakfast as fuel, read those emails I postponed, then drive up to the club gym.
You see, I'm expecting this revolutionary workout that completely alters the course of my fitness career and catapults me into Insta-worthy stardom. But that's not the case, far from it. I'm tired: my shoulders shift hesitantly under my weight, my ankles wobble to and fro, and my energy level is between "just one more rep" and "why am I even here?" I realize that I've been on, on, on for the past month and really haven't allowed my body to rest and just be.
Yanking my earbuds from their homes, I glance at myself in the mirror.
"What the hell am I doing?" I question, brows furrowed.
Just the other day, I was chatting with a friend about the imperceptible effects of social media on our actions, our motivations, and our thoughts, especially concerning our own self-worth. She, being a fantastically radiant yogi herself, turned to me and objected, "Karen, you are a beautiful, kind, and loving soul. You need to remember to love yourself first or no one will." While I've never been one to necessarily act upon the candid ruminations of others, it dawned on me that I've been my own worst enemy the whole time. That little devil sitting on my shoulder mocking me and taunting my sanity was, in fact, myself. I immerse myself in the image of "perfection" through continuously scrolling pages until my eyes blur and I can't even make out my own reflection.
She was right. This has to end.
I start by snatching up the hunk of mobile machinery. Unless there's a legitimate aesthetic I'm interested in or an individual that instills a mantra of pervasive love and self-acceptance, I begin by unfollowing any account that does not follow these guidelines. I make it my personal vendetta to uphold the yogic way of life that I often overlook, to care for my soul and to be kind to this borrowed body. I immediately feel a shift in energy.
I'm not too sure if I've ever been confident enough to say, "I love my body!" but I'm working hard to get there. I know that beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, races, colors, heights, and proportions. And that it is in these differences that pure beauty endures. It has never and will never be contained within a handbook or a diet plan or even in a mobile application.
I conclude the day with an hour and a half long yoga session with integrated meditation. I choose "release" as my intention as I begin to shed this skin I've outgrown for far too long. I fly through the asanas and vinyasas, and class concludes in what feels like just one breath cycle. My palms meet at the heart as I bow my head reverentially.
I respect and honor the divine light within myself and in all beings, the matter of the universe with which I am comprised of, and I bow my head in gratitude for this body I call home. I wish you all peace in whatever journey you're currently embarking in and an unwavering spirit toward self-love.
#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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