Sierra Dennis , 25, Brooklyn, New York

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 Would Be Perfect If You Were Skinny."

“You would be perfect if you were skinny.”
It was a warm summer night. I was 15 years old, headed to the 10th grade, and extremely desperate to be accepted. My mother was out working, and I had invited my friends over without my mother's permission, of course. The guy I had a crush on who I had already fooled around with was going around the room telling my friends and me how he felt about all of us. When his eyes landed on me, I was prepared for him to admit to the whole room that I was the one, the girl he wanted to date for the summer, but instead, he said, “You would be perfect if you were skinny.” Those eight words cut like a knife. And they stayed with me for years to come.
For years, food and I have had an interesting relationship. I've purged it, and I've binged on it. I've turned to it when I was happy, and I've turned to it when I was depressed. Food was my best friend. I started noticeably gaining weight at the age of 10. My parents were recently divorced, and the only thing I had other than my 2-year-old twin brothers were the snacks in the kitchen. The snacks provided me a comfort neither my mother or father could give at the time. I began to hate going to the doctor because of the scale, and as my weight progressed, so did my mother's frustration. In her eyes, my weight gain made it seem to the outside world that she was a bad mother who had no control over what her daughter was doing. And so began the name-calling, the shoving of apple cider vinegar down my throat, and the 10-day diet she put me on at 13. I had tried probably 50 different diets over my teenage years, yet my relationship with food only worsened.
By 18 years old, all the emotional damage that had been inflicted on me, and that I had inflicted on myself, had taken a toll. I realized that I was never going to be "skinny," so I might as well embrace what I have. I began to party a lot and dress in skimpy clothes for attention. At a bar, one night with my two college best friends, a group of guys passed by us and one said, “That big girl would be fine as hell if she were skinny.” I felt the same way I had when my 10th grade crush said similar words. I left the bar by myself, stopped at a gas station for Cheetos, and sat alone in the dark. Tears streamed down my eyes as I ate. The taste of my favorite chips seemed to make me feel better for the moment, but when they were gone, I was alone again.
After that night, I was done. I decided it was time to start taking care of myself, and I began working out and taking care of my body. As my physical appearance began to change, I was getting attention from guys who had never even known I existed. But still, none of this made me happy. I never felt good enough, and I began tracking calories and feeling guilty about any indulgences. Even though I tried to change my body to feel "perfect," it was clear that I had demons to tackle.
Seven years later, I finally understand that, no matter how much my body changes physically, unless I'm happy with myself, I'll never be satisfied. I've finally developed a healthier relationship with food. I don't track every single calorie, and I don't kill myself in the gym. I just enjoy life, and I don't look to men for approval. I spend my Saturdays on the beach in a two-piece bikini. While I'm lying in the sand next to my boyfriend (who tells me I'm perfect, despite all of the flaws I see), I think back to the time when my 10th grade heart was shattered after being told the only way I would be perfect is if I were skinny. And I think to myself: If only you knew you were perfect then.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder and are in need of support, please call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. For a 24-hour crisis line, text “NEDA” to 741741.
#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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