Kathryn Burns, 23, Indianapolis, IN

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 Body Is Not An Ornament — It Is The Vehicle To Your Journey"

This is Taryn Brumfitt's mantra, and it flipped a switch in my brain. I was sitting in an audience of women packed into a tiny sold out theater when my perspective changed forever. We were gathered there for a special viewing of the body positivity documentary Embrace, and the atmosphere was aglow with positive energy and self-love. I was looking around, thinking to myself that every single one of the women surrounding me was beautiful and magical in their own way. But then, it hit me: I didn't want to think that way anymore.
It's not that I don't want to think that all women are beautiful. I do, because we are. But we are programmed to value beauty, because any time we are around other people, we are on display. We instinctively make assumptions about each other based solely on appearance. It is unavoidable, which makes it difficult to remember that, while we all are beautiful, we don't need to be. We do not owe the world beauty. We do not owe the world thinness, or smooth skin, free of wrinkles and stretch marks, or a mouth full of straight white teeth. Beauty is not the price of admission for existing on this planet.
Reframing my way of thinking is a daily battle that I continue to fight. My body is not an ornament — it is my vehicle. Every time I have an intrusive thought, I repeat Taryn's words in my head and very intentionally correct myself.
My brain will tell me, "I have a muffin top and I need to lose weight."
A few years ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The mood stabilizers and antidepressants that they prescribed to adjust my brain chemicals to balanced levels had several side effects, one of which was weight gain. The soft flesh that began to develop around my abdomen is not a flaw. It actually signifies that I am healthier now. I no longer go days without eating or sleeping because of the mania, or go days without eating because sleeping is all I'm able to do during the depression cycle. My fat is a product of taking medication that enables me to function, and it is a product of eating food that brings me joy. Food is not my enemy. Fat is not my enemy. It is just fat.
My brain will tell me, "I wish I could get a nose job."
My face is not symmetrical. My nose is crooked because of a bump on the bridge where my glasses rest. To my total mortification, I have been asked if my nose was ever broken (it wasn't), and pictures of me from one angle look like a totally different person than pictures of me from another. My nose has always been my loudest insecurity, screaming in my head randomly throughout the day that I'm hideously ugly and should go live in some sort of hidden underwater cave. But my nose is not an ornament. It is the reason I am able to smell my girlfriend's shampoo, cookies in the oven, and the fresh lavender I grow on my balcony. It is not an accessory. It is a tool that I am lucky to have.
I try to remind myself that I don't put pressure on most of my body to be anything other than functional. I don't love my lungs; I hardly think about them. I don't need my spleen to be gorgeous. I just need my organs to do their jobs. My nose and my fat are no different. On days when I'm not able to fully love my body for how it looks, I remind myself that I only need to appreciate it for getting me where I need to go and allowing me to do the activities I enjoy. It doesn't need to look good while I'm doing it. My value as a person does not come from my physical appearance.
My body is not an ornament — it is my vehicle. If I want to go to the beach, it is not my body's job to look a certain way. It doesn't need to be free of fat or hairless. It's okay if my back has zits and people can see the giant mole on the back of my thigh. If I'm at the beach, I automatically have the perfect beach body, simply because my body is healthy enough to get me there.
#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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