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.
"Women Are Not To Take Up Space"
Not with our voices, nor our ideas, not with our bodies, and certainly not with our thighs.
I remember being 8 years old and realizing for the very first time, as I looked down at my own thighs, doing that weird squishy-outty, busted-can-of-biscuits thing all thighs do when seated comfortably on the toilet, that my body was wrong. I was too big, and I was wrong. I was a project in need of fixing.
I spent the next 15 years in an endless cycle of harmful behavior, from joining Weight Watchers at the age of 12, to developing anorexia then bulimia then anorexia again, all in an effort to become smaller, to become more desirable, to become better-liked, accepted, recognized, TO BE WORTH MORE BECAUSE I'D BE SMALLER.
I'm not small. I'm 5'10." I've always been "the tall one." I have thick thighs, hereditary cellulite (since I was 16), and broad shoulders. I'm not a beauty queen. I sometimes get the, "Hey, you should model," because of my height, but I've never been scouted; wasn't even prom queen.
Maybe if I was thinner. Maybe if I was shorter. Maybe if I didn't take up so much space.
Flash forward to my first women's studies course in college when I heard the titular sentence, and realized my entire life had been spent trying to shrink myself.
I'll say that again: I spent my entire life trying to shrink myself.
What a waste, right? What an incredible way society has to strip women of their power: make us obsess over the only thing we cannot escape or fundamentally change, our own bodies.
With this realization, my mindset and focus ever so slowly began to shift. I started to look not only at myself but at each and every one of my fellow females and think: Maybe instead of hating our bodies, we could celebrate them, their capabilities, their differences, their quirks, their charms. Because what is uniformity but boredom in a phonetic disguise?
I'm now 24, 16 years out from the toilet incident. I still haven't been scouted; I'm still not a queen, prom or otherwise. But I stopped counting calories, stopped measuring inches, I stopped being an enemy to myself. Instead, I'm beginning to realize that my worth is not in this outside skin sack, but even if it were, who cares what anyone thinks of it besides me?
And believe it or not, I kinda sorta like myself.
#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.