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When Instagram star Lexi Mendiola looked at a striking photo of herself on the beach, she didn't initially love what she saw.
"Right off the bat, my instinct was to junk the photo because for some reason, the first thing my eyes gravitated towards were my 'tiger stripes,'" Mendiola told TODAY via email.
The 23-year-old thought about the photo for a long time, and even contemplated retouching it to remove those "stripes" — stretch marks along the tops of her thighs. But then she realized how crazy it was to let something so small dictate how she viewed the image. Mendiola, who lives in the Philippines, decided to share the photo as a reminder to herself, and her followers, to not be insecure about something as natural and insignificant as stretch marks.
In the photo caption, she wrote: "It's really nothing to get all worked up or feel weird about. Here's to learning to love the lines."
Mendiola, who has shared beautiful lifestyle images on Instagram for about four years, said she was nervous about posting the photo. "It may seem like a little thing, but I was posting a photo of stretch marks amid my feed of perfectly tanned, toned and virtually spotless women," she said.
It turns out her followers enjoyed the refreshing honesty. Her photo has been liked more than 20,000 times, and hundreds of commenters said they felt inspired and empowered by her post.
"I cried reading some of the comments," Mendiola told TODAY. "Especially the ones where people share their experience, or how much confidence it gave them."
The post has continued to spread a powerful message and reinforced Mendiola's quest for self-love. "Everyone has their 'flaws,' but it's only really a flaw if you let it be."