Maggie Smith, 37, Baltimore, MD

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.

"Your Scars Are Gross"

I skimmed the comments. Down, down, down. Wait. I quickly scrolled back up and read, "Your scars are gross — you should be embarrassed that you're so flat." I stared at the words, confused that someone took the time to type them, or felt the need to voice such a hurtful opinion in a comment. I never considered my scars to be anything but a story — the story of my struggles — that I chose to openly share for the benefit of others. What I failed to realize is this: How I see my body and its imperfections is not how everyone sees them. And that can hurt. A lot.
For me, 2009 was a transformative year. After learning I carried the BRCA 2 genetic mutation, I immediately chose to take action. I underwent a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy in June. My daughter was 11 months old, and I chose to forgo reconstruction to minimize my recovery time. I did not see the point of prolonging my healing process, since I am in the army and wear a uniform daily (and I'm not a cocktail dress kind of person, anyway). I just wanted to get back to holding my daughter and doing push-ups as quickly as possible.
My husband supported my decision from the beginning. We did extensive research and determined that the only reason for me to get reconstruction was to feel "normal" in clothes. I went from a D-cup to a no-cup in a day, and it was shocking. But, I confidently navigated my recovery and received support from family and friends. I chose to go public with my choice by sharing my story with other women to help them figure out what to do when faced with the discovery of a BRCA mutation. I conducted a few television interviews and spoke with a journalist or two about my story. I felt confident in my choice and naively believed that others saw my story in a positive light, as well.
A few photographers took interest, and the result was a series of amazing photographs that I love. One of those photographs, posted online by a magazine, prompted that aforementioned comment. I understand that trolls exist on all social media sites, but I foolishly assumed that everyone would choose to see my scars as a sign of strength and perseverance, not as shameful and disgusting. That sentence shook the confidence I found after opting for surgery. I felt small, ugly, and incredibly self-conscious about my chest. As an ultramarathoner and Crossfit-er, I take pride in my body and what it can do, but suddenly none of that mattered, and I saw myself as a disfigured monster.
I am lucky to have people in my life that stick up for me, even when it is me who is doing the damage to myself. My husband calmed my fears and reiterated his support and love, and my girlfriend forced me to focus on the opinion that really matters: mine. Another friend helped me understand that breasts are not what define a woman. I spent a lot of time in front of the mirror looking at myself topless and wondering if I actually made the right choice. Of course, I did – I am alive and cancer-free. My scars tell my tale.
Confidence is not built in a day, but it can be torn down in a second. I lost it all after reading that comment, but it has returned. I remain baffled by the sheer meanness of the comment, but also know that others have suffered much worse. It is difficult to understand why a person would choose to insult someone in a vulnerable moment, but it has made me stronger. I have a healthier relationship with my scars and my body after taking the time with family and friends to understand my reaction to a stranger's opinion. These scars are my story of perseverance, whether you like them or not.
#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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