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 Wouldn't Like Being Fat"
I don't remember my mom ever being happy with her body. I have only had brief bouts of genuine body confidence myself.
When I was young, I danced. As a treat, when my mom would pick me up from dance class, she would drive me to Dunkin Donuts, and I'd get a donut. As I grew older, I'd join her in grabbing a coffee. As I was still youngish, it was typically a painfully sweet latte with whipped cream on top.
When I was 10, my body was preparing for a growth spurt, and I was quite literally round — which was fine, but my eating habits also weren't always reflective of a balanced nutritional diet. It's not that they were horrific, but I've always had a massive sweet tooth. My mom, a healthcare professional and body-conscious woman, was concerned and tried to teach me healthy eating habits early on with mixed success (I was very stubborn and my favorite quote from her about me as a child is, “You took 'no' as a personal challenge”). She never shamed me, and she was always careful and kind, but when you are young and you start to see all the sculpted women on TV and in magazines, and notice how the older dancers are so carefully fit, you don't always hear what is intended — you hear what you feel. It no longer matters what my mom actually said to me the last time I ordered a sugary coffee with whipped cream; what matters is what I remember hearing: “Are you sure you want to get whipped cream? You wouldn't like being fat.”
That was the day that I began to see my body, to actually see it as it fit into clothes, as it compared to other women's, and as it related to my mom's, which was never "good enough" in her eyes. I began to feel horribly fat. I began to exclusively wear one-pieces at the beach and baggier clothing in general, and I began to dislike seeing myself in the wall of mirrors at dance class in the form-fitting attire we were expected to wear.
Learning to accept your body, and the way it relates to both the bodies around you and the person you are, is something that can only be done by you. No matter how many partners tell you that you are beautiful, no matter how many friends scoff when you call yourself fat, no matter how beautiful and smart and kind your mother says you are, only you can accept yourself and love yourself for who you are, both internally and externally.
Now, I wear whatever I want to the beach: whatever cute suit I feel like putting on my body that manages to keep everything in place as I see fit. I have a varied closet filled with costumes for different moods and occasions. I have days when I feel sexy and confident and beautiful, days when I feel down and fat and ugly, and days (and these days begin to outnumber the others) when I don't think about it at all beyond whether or not I enjoy the outfit I've put together and whether it fits the needs of the day.
My mother gave me so many things to think about, so many words and feelings that revolve in my head when I think of her or when I speak with her. I have my favorite quote of hers and my most painful quote, but what she most often told me was the litany of feminist praise she softly spoke to me every night before I went to bed: “You are smart, kind, thoughtful, talented, funny, unique, and I love you.”
#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.