Karolena Greenidge, 28, Brooklyn, NY

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.

"Tienes Piernas Como Un Jamón" — A.K.A. "You Have Legs Like A Ham"

When I was in junior high school, I went to Guatemala to see my great grandmother Lucila, a tiny blind lady with gray hair and a beautifully wrinkled brown face — and she told me I had legs like a ham. She immediately began to touch my face, and then my entire body, because she wanted to figure out what I looked like. "Tienes piernas como un jamón," she said with a smile on her face. It made her happy. It made her laugh, and I loved it. She had the best laugh, a toothless laugh, which made me laugh. Which makes sense now that I am a comedian and making people laugh is my favorite thing to do in the world.
I love my body, because it is the only one that I have. Would I like to be skinny? Sometimes. But I have never been skinny in my entire life. I have done all the diets and worked out and lost weight, but I have never been skinny. I am Hispanic and Caribbean, and the first time I ever wore a bikini was in Jamaica, where there were so many different body types but everyone was wearing bikinis. In both cultures, being fat is openly talked about, and it's not always a bad thing. My culture, combined with my attitude about life, has made me love my body. I believe life is for living, it's for having the most fun as possible, following your dreams, and this body allows me to do that. I dance in this body, I played rugby in this body. I perform comedy in this body. I have sex in this body. I go out and I take up space in this body — I have to love it. And maybe it's the idea of defiance, of rebellion, of knowing that a lot of people hate this body or want me to hate this body, yet I wake up and do my best to love myself anyway.
When I really feel nervous about shows, or whenever I feel insecure, I remind myself of this. I did a show last month, and I was so nervous for it that my hands were shaking and I was sucking down vodka sodas. I was worried that I was going to look fat on stage, since I do all of these weird faces in my set which, in my opinion, make my face look extra round. Once I go down holes like that, I feel even more nervous. I have to take a breath and think that there are 24 hours in the day, and in that moment, I just need 10 or 12 minutes to tell my story, to do the thing I love to do — make people laugh — and I deserve those few minutes to enjoy my life. Then, the rest of the 23 hours and 48 minutes in the day, I can worry about how round my face is if I want to. That really helps me get through shows and auditions.
My body made my great grandma laugh; it was funny to her that I had a full, well-fed, strong body. She was teasing me, but not for one minute did I feel bad about myself — which is the point. I will always remember her cracking that joke and her laugh. Laughter has always done that to me. It has always made me feel good. It's what I hope to use to make others feel good.
#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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