Tina Arandjelovic, 23, Los Angeles, CA

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.

"Every day, I Want You To Look In The Mirror & Tell Yourself You Are Beautiful"

It started in high school. I developed this unrealistic idea in my head of what I believed I should look like. Seeing the most beautiful women gracing magazine covers made me tell myself, "I need to look like that." We all know those images are Photoshopped here and there — nobody's perfect. I even wrote my senior research paper on the topic of how the media is influencing women and girls everywhere on what they have to look like, making them unable to be happy with the beautiful body they have. Still, I wanted to look like that Photoshopped image.
I thought the answer to this was to eat very little, or nothing at all, which is quite possibly one of the stupidest things I've ever thought. The worst part is that none of my friends or family really knew, so no one was there telling me this was a terrible idea, or could even help. That's probably why it went on for so long. I was so unhappy with the way that I looked, that I started taking extreme measures to try and reach this level of perfection that I was seeing everywhere and knew didn't really exist. I was obsessed.
After high school, I stopped the insane diet I was on because I genuinely could not be a person day to day anymore. I was sick all the time and had no energy. I was fighting this mental battle with myself and I didn't know who was going to come out victorious.
Fast-forward to 2016 – welcome to the happiest year of my life thus far. An angel was sent to me. I met somebody from my work and I was (and am) SO happy with him. I was constantly in a state of bliss. I ended up gaining weight last year, which brought me back to the mindset I was in when I was in high school.
None of my favorite pants would fit me the way they did. It started making me so upset that I would just start crying and not even want to leave the house anymore. One night, that special someone was over while I was getting ready before we were going out. I was so upset with the way that I looked, and he didn't understand why. He told me to look at him, and he asked one favor of me. He said, "Every day, I want you to look in the mirror and tell yourself you are beautiful."
I still cried.
I didn't listen then.
I would tell myself those words maybe once every couple weeks, and I never believed them.
Slowly, I started to listen. Every day, I would take time at some point and look in the mirror and say out loud, "I love myself." The more I said it, the more I started to let the words sink in and think about the things that I really did love about myself, and I slowly but surely started to develop a sense of self love.
Those simple words changed me.
Saying them have helped me change my way of thinking and helped me to lead a healthier and happier life. I'm not sure I'd be anywhere near there if he hadn't said that to me.
Today, I'm not exactly where I want to be, but I'm on my way.
Today, I am so happy.
Today, I love myself in a way I never thought I would.
So if you're reading this, go find a mirror right now and tell yourself out loud, "I love myself," and go be the badass bitch you (and I) know you are.
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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