Mandy Velez, 25, New York, 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.

"Aren't You Supposed To Be Fat?"

Every night before I go to bed, I have this ritual. I turn to my side and stare down at my stomach, assessing if the pocket of fat I've had since I was a little girl has grown or shrunk. For the longest time, I measured my self-worth by how low the fat on my midsection hung in this position.
So many girls and women live with this anxiety, the voice in their heads that makes us ask ourselves, Am I getting bigger? I have this voice, too. But ever since my hypothyroidism diagnosis at 21 years old, it's more than a voice. It's an all-consuming battle.
Hypothyroidism, a disorder in which the thyroid, which controls many bodily functions like metabolism and hormone disbursement, doesn't function thanks to a surplus of antibodies that attack it. The disease has stolen many things in terms of my health and mind, like making me medicine-dependent and a high-risk pregnancy candidate. But most importantly, it has completely stolen my sense of control over my own body.
People who live with hypothyroidism, a usually lifelong condition, are often overweight because the thyroid can't properly regulate the body's metabolism. Which is why when I, a fairly petite-sized woman, tell people I have the disorder, I'm met with weird stares. Once, while texting a man I went on a few dates with, I told him my diagnosis.
"Aren't you supposed to be fat?" was his response.
Thanks to society's standard of beauty, the one that says fat people are "less than," I live with a fear of my body finally succumbing to this aspect of my disease. So this accusatory question was just another affirmation that, no, I didn't have control.
I still have body image fears. But after so many responses like the one I got, I'm realizing that the real fight isn't to keep my body in line with how people think it's supposed to be. The true battle is against the words and people that make assumptions and further encourage my fears.
The only thing I'm supposed to be is what I am. And that's all that really matters.
#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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