We sit on the sidewalk, two 13-year-old girls with our legs outstretched on the pavement. I look at my friend’s legs, thin and smooth like a model’s legs in a shaving cream commercial. Mine are bulkier—more like challah bread than a French baguette. I prickle with inadequacy. It’s the first time I remember noticing my legs as a standard for beauty. And it’s the first time I think of my body as anything but beautiful.
As I descend into puberty, my dislike for my legs becomes something like hate. They are boxy, with little-to-no definition between calves and ankles. I hate how, when my knees bend, a constellation of dimples decorates my cream-colored skin. When I look for legs like mine in Teen Vogue, I see shiny legs with dainty ankles, as if shaped by the plastic from a barbie doll.
I remember one visit to a mall dressing room, getting stuck into a pair of ill-fitting jeans, and whimpering as I tried to pull them off under the florescent lighting, a light knock from a salesperson awakening me from a sweaty spell of self-hatred. Instead of shorts, skirts, or dresses, I’d hide my legs behind a pair of heavy, navy-blue warm-up pants that swished when I walked. Even during heatwaves, I’d wear long pants, pretending not to be bothered by the sweat dripping down my temples.
Ironically, I was never considered overweight until my 20s. I had what was considered a medically healthy body weight through college. I was a two-sport athlete and enjoyed the thrills that came with the physicality of competition. “You have an athlete’s body,” people would say. Sometimes I even felt power in my legs, especially when I learned how to do squats at the gym, which made me feel like a superwoman. Yet even then, when I was at my most athletic, I was ashamed of my legs, especially in comparison to others. I remember thinking that my life would be better if I could trade my legs with someone like Cindy Crawford.
Yet even with all the swirling self-doubt, I don’t remember being outwardly antagonized about my legs until much later. The moment came when I was on a summer boat ride with one of my nephews, who was around eight at the time. As he looked at me with what felt like mischief, he asked why I was “as big as the lake” before asking me why I didn’t work out like his mother. It was a mortifying moment that I had been preparing for all my life. Finally, someone outwardly acknowledged what I had thought about myself since that day with my legs outstretched on the pavement. As I got off the boat, I spewed forth salty tears. The tears were from shame. And anger. I was angry with my nephew for being so flippant. And I was angry at myself. Through my nephew’s comments, I realized how awful I have sounded to myself all these years. It was a lightbulb moment.
The truth is, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve softened my stance on my body. I’ve even come close to something like self-acceptance. As they say, with age comes wisdom. And the money to enter therapy. Recently, a therapist suggested that I stop thinking about what my legs look like and start to consider all my legs have done for me—another lightbulb moment.
And here is where I landed this Thanksgiving. I am not yet body positive, if that’s a thing. Nor am I unmoved when I see a woman whose legs look like they popped out of a box of toothpicks. However, I do feel thankful for my legs. To be sure, I wouldn’t be who I am today without them.
If adult me could return to the teenage me, the girl sitting on the pavement, here is what I’d say. I’d tell teenage me that those legs will someday carry her to 44 countries and to more than 30 states. They’ll propel her through high school swimming and collegiate field hockey. They’ll take her through languorous strolls in city parks. They’ll walk her down the aisle on her wedding day. I would tell teenage me to consider being grateful for her legs instead of hating them. Because someday, those same legs will bring her exactly where she needs to be.
Dear Reader: What body part do you love to hate? And how do you cope?! Comments and reflections are welcome!
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