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.
"Suck It In, Taylor!"
People suck. That's the ultimate truth. Unfortunately, some people suck who are related to you. You love them, of course, chalking off their weird, sometimes offensive comments to their personality. It was a comment of a family member that I repeat in my mind probably five times a day, and it drives me absolutely crazy.
“Suck it in, Taylor!” I was 7 or 8 at a family BBQ (a situation in which I absolutely shouldn't have needed to feel self-conscious). I was running around with all of my cousins, wearing a bikini that I picked out myself, and generally not giving a single shit about my stomach. That changed, of course, with this comment. I'm going to be honest, I'm not sure that I ever felt the need to worry about my weight until this point. I don't think I even realized I had a tubby stomach, but from then on, I was hyper aware of it.
I suck in my stomach in pictures. I suck in my stomach at work. I suck in my stomach every damn time I look in the mirror to the point that I think I look “unnatural” without doing it. I check to make sure that you can't see my stomach before I leave the house. It is worse now, of course, now that I've got this mom tummy. I have these stretch marks, tiger stripes, which peak over even the highest waist jeans.
It's funny, really, that the comment has stuck with me for so long. I forgave the girls who bullied me to the edge of suicide when I was in elementary school. I forgave the therapist who told me, “It's just hormones,” when I spilled my heart out to him. Why can't I forgive my own family? Why can't I let it go?
I'm a proud Native American woman. I brought an amazing, intelligent little boy into this world. I own a home, I'm a nurse. I work at the hospital I was born in, serving my people. I have accomplished amazing things, but I cry in the changing rooms at department stores. I pull everything out of my closet and sob as nothing looks right against my stomach. I make calculations on how much I would need to put away each pay check to afford a tummy tuck. I'm a mess and, yet, I keep telling myself, “Suck it in, Taylor!”
I can't blame that comment for the buckets of self-doubt I have, but I can blame it for what it was. I was a child! No one has any business telling a child that they're too fat to wear a swimsuit. No one had any right to take that innocence away from me.
I hope that my son will know how to love himself. I hope that I am able to cultivate his spirit to look beyond the words of others and to love the uniqueness of his body. I can think of a million things wrong with my body (number one: my flabby stomach), but I can't think of a single thing wrong with his.
#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.