When all the girls in my middle school became obsessed with their body images, I couldn’t understand why. There were girls stuffing their bras and other girls experimenting with makeup, trying to cover up their acne. Not me. I grew up a tomboy who didn’t really care about looks. I had braces, wore glasses and only put on mascara if I was feeling extra cute that day. I was a pretty simple girl who didn’t care about how others perceived me, because I was always taught that what mattered was on the inside. I kept that mindset until I became a high school senior.

Keeping it casual.| Ines Vuckovic/Diamond Brown/Dose

During the second half of my senior year, I started becoming ill frequently. I was unable to take more than three or four bites of any meal, I would get nauseous at any given moment, and I had sharp, unexplainable stomach pains. After complaining about these symptoms for a few days, I went to my doctor.

I was told I had kidney stones and that they should pass very soon. I couldn’t believe it?—?I thought kidney stones were supposed to be something suffered only by old people who watched the midday news while they drank ice-cold glasses of prune juice.

My doctor instructed me to get a sonogram to confirm his suspicion. Whatever was found on my sonogram prompted them to send me to get an MRI. I didn’t realize kidney stones were that serious. A few days later, I found out I had a benign tumor, the size of a fist, on my liver. I was devastated because surgery would mean I would be missing some of the final moments of my high school career, but I knew that this had to be done soon if I wanted to be healthy in college.

I didn’t tell many people about what happened because I didn’t want anyone to pity me. I told three of my closest friends what was happening and asked them to keep me updated on what was going on during the final months of being a senior. A little over a month later, I underwent surgery to remove the tumor and was on bed rest for another month. I ended up missing about two months of school.

“That looks gross. Will you look like that forever?”

When I finally got back to school, my friends had questions. Two of them were super supportive: “How’ve you been, Diamond? How do you feel?” I admitted that I had felt lonely being at home for so long, but I was slowly but surely getting stronger and was just happy to be back.

Another friend asked to see my scar. That didn’t surprise me since he was interested in those types of things, but I was shocked and quite hurt by his reaction. “That looks gross,” he said. “Will you look like that forever?”

Obviously, I am no longer friends with this guy, but his words ring in my ears five years later. I became one of those self-conscious girls who was afraid to be vulnerable. Throughout college in Chicago, I would find excuses to not go to the beach, a place I once loved. I would complain about how the water would be cold or how crowded it would be, when I was actually just afraid to wear a bikini. I started caring about my looks and I didn’t feel beautiful anymore.

When I explained this sensitive part of my life to some of my old friends, they would say things like, “So? You’re skinny. You have nothing to be self-conscious about.” Sure, I was small, but that didn’t mean that I automatically felt comfortable being in a public place and exposing my insecurity to the world.

Ines Vuckovic/Diamond Brown/Dose

In 2013, my roommates finally convinced me to go to the beach with them one day, but I was so uncomfortable. I had bought a bathing suit that would cover up my midsection, but I just tugged at it all day, making sure no one could see my scars. In any pictures we took (like the one at left), I would try to use my arms to cover myself up so no one on Facebook or Instagram could see my flawed body. My roommates probably didn’t know, but I went back to my dorm room and just cried for the rest of the day.

I hated the reality that I wasn’t able to embrace my body. I always encourage my friends to wear whatever makes them feel beautiful and to not care about what others had to say, so why was it that when it came to me, I didn’t apply that same advice?

When I started dating my current boyfriend almost two years ago, I encouraged him to overcome his insecurities and to do whatever made him happy in life, as any supportive girlfriend would. During our first summer of dating, he wanted to go swimming and I found myself making the same excuses I had made to my college friends and roommates. When I finally made myself vulnerable and explained why I didn’t feel comfortable wearing a bikini, he gave me the same advice I had given him in the past: to overcome insecurities.

Ines Vuckovic/Diamond Brown/Dose

It’s taken a lot of pep talks to myself and the amazing support of those closest to me, but I finally took steps in the direction of body positivity and self-love. On a hot Sunday afternoon, my boyfriend and I drove to a beach not too far from my apartment so I could face my fears. As we walked about half a mile from our parking spot to the beach, he held my hand, reassuring me that everything would be fine and I didn’t have to hide anymore.

He was right. The one person who had something negative to say about my scar?—?that long-ago high school friend?—?was no longer in my life. Even if he had been, I realized I wasn’t put on this earth to look good for him. I was hiding in ill-fitting bathing suits and refusing to do something I loved because one person had something negative to say about my body. I realized I couldn’t let that part of my life from years ago determine who I am and what I do now.

Ines Vuckovic/Diamond Brown/Dose

As suspenseful music played in my head, it felt as if time slowed down just for this moment. I took off the T-shirt that covered my new bikini top and stood on the beach motionless. I looked around and breathed a sigh of relief?—?I had actually worn a bikini to the beach. I had actually exposed the most vulnerable part of me.

My boyfriend smiled because he knew how big this moment was for me, the girl who hid herself for five years. Not gonna lie, my sunglasses hid the tears forming in my eyes pretty well (if I do say so myself).

I was ecstatic to have finally faced this dark part of my life and to overcome it. I actually posted a picture of me explaining my story on Instagram and got 144 likes (my page usually averages around 30 likes, so this is big)! People congratulated me on embracing my body and having the courage to actually do something I had been afraid to do for so long.

I spent the rest of the day enjoying the beach and not wanting to leave. I finally felt like I was getting back to my true self and I will never look back.