Katelyn Fryar, 26, Danville, KY

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.

"Your Eyebrows Look Really Bushy Today — Don't Worry, You'll Grow Into Them."

I used to think kids were blank slates that grew up to be people who looked like whatever they wanted to look like. I had seen pictures of my parents as kids, and they, as objectively attractive adults, only vaguely resembled their younger selves (in retrospect, I must admit that they were also cute as kids). I spent very little time in my childhood thinking about what I looked like or what I would look like. These concerns were all secondary to fun.
Fourth grade was a time for reading, soccer, academic team, and Beanie Babies. I hadn't gotten my period yet, there was no time in my very busy fourth-grade schedule to worry about what I was going to look like when I was older, and I was not aware that there was any work that I had yet to do to become a "beautiful" woman. I just, you know, thought it would… happen.
Fifth grade, however, afforded no such placid refuge from the still-ongoing horror of womanhood. I got my period, for one thing. I had begged my mom to let me shave my legs, and she finally let me. My best friend and I had practiced shaving our legs with a butter knife, which was not helpful in a practical sense, but it did make me feel older. Neither of those paradigm-shifting womanhood rituals changed me in the way the “Spelling Bee Incident” did, though.
We were in English class, and we were lining up for our weekly spelling bee. I stood confidently, shoulders back. I was very good at the spelling bee — I rarely lost. The coolest girl in my class walked over to stand next to me. I smiled at her and she turned to face me. I'm not sure what prompted this, but she decided that right now, right before the spelling bee, right before my favorite part of the week, was the time to drop this bomb on me: “Your eyebrows look really bushy today — don't worry, you'll grow into them.”
My head started spinning. It suddenly felt very hot in that room, and I felt the sweat running down the backs of my knees. I was unexpectedly and wholly aware that there was something "wrong" with me. That I wasn't a blank slate like I had always thought, that there were some things that I was just stuck with. It was too much. I spelled “spaghetti” correctly but blanked out on “doughnut” and had to walk back to my seat, feeling now both ugly and incompetent.
In the turbulent years that followed, I compiled a list of grievances against my body:
1. My eyebrows form an unauthorized bridge across my temples to my hairline when ignored.
2. A horde of freckles (impossible to hide with even the best foundation) form constellations on every sun-touched part of me.
3. My hair is a thick, unkempt, curly set of wires when no heat is applied, although it will behave if asked nicely.
4. I have a single hair (Doug) that grows once a month in the same spot on my chin to say hello.
5. My breasts are too big.
6. My hips are wider than my legs somehow?
7. My nose is too long, my lips are too small. Is that a mustache on my upper lip?
8. I can only use prescription-strength antiperspirant.
9. I have small teeth (“like Chiclets,” someone once said).
This list had been an Arya Stark-esque continuous internal monologue for many stressful, unhappy years.
There are things that I have adapted to: I pluck my eyebrows when I remember, but they're still thick because we are no longer in the early 2000s (praise be); I embrace the freckles because they hide my zits and they're unique and interesting; my hair stays in exactly whatever arrangement I put it in, no hairspray, so that's awesome; Dove makes good deodorant; my teeth are fine.
There are things I have chosen to add that make me feel more like myself: a septum piercing that communicates an inner weirdness that my wardrobe is unable to convey; my wedding ring, which reminds me of my husband who loves me for who I was, am, and will be; the understanding that it's fine to wear a bikini on the beach, no matter what size you are; the knowledge that beauty is temporary and fleeting, so it's important not to get too attached to being 23 and pretty.
Perhaps the most important thing that I've learned in my journey to becoming a woman is that we are not born as blank slates. We are born as complicated works of art that are refined throughout the years. We don't choose our DNA. We don't choose what is fashionable. What we are will not always be fashionable, but what we are will always be ours, and I submit to you that that is the coolest thing to be.
#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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