I clearly remember discussing the size of my thighs with my cousin when I still had all my baby teeth. It was a hot night, I was in shorts, and I was explaining that my thighs were very muscular and big. How does a newly minted kindergartner come up with a statement like that? I am not really sure, but this memory signals the beginning of the complicated relationship I have with my thighs. It's a bumpy one, as you might have guessed, but I've been working on smoothing things over with my legs for years. And I am happy to report that me and legs, we're getting somewhere.
Throughout my life, rarely could I look in a mirror and not make a stink face when my gaze drifted toward my legs. In facing my reflection, some of the disdainful soundtrack came from what I'd heard from other people, often when wearing leggings. From a Pilates client: "Wow! Were you a speed skater?" A man impressed by my pronounced hamstrings once asked, "How did you get your legs?" I believe he meant it as a compliment, but his question had me wondering why I wore leggings to hike rather than baggy sweats. Comments from dance teachers saying I would never be a ballerina were more complex than a statement on the circumference of my thighs, but I focused all that negative attention on my legs. Internally, I think I believed that if I had thinner thighs, I would be a different person and somehow better.
Fast-forward from my 5-year-old self, through adolescence when I developed hips to go with my thighs, through early adulthood, marriage, and two pregnancies, to a triathlon-training ride with a newfound friend. I made an offhand remark about my spandex-covered thighs, and my riding companion replied that I should be grateful for legs. She clearly wasn't playing the game — you know, that odd social glue that women can use to bond, where they competitively cut down their bodies.
Her best friend, she explained, had recently lost the use of her legs and arms to a rare nerve disorder. It took less than a week for her friend's limbs to be rendered useless. The cause: unknown. A virus, maybe, turned her body against itself, and her own immune system ate away at her nerve endings. My cycling friend said after witnessing this, she would never look at her thighs the same way again. She couldn't talk smack about her wonderfully functional body. After pedaling for 35 miles, I felt that maybe I, too, should give my legs a break. After all, look where they got me.
While my relationship with my legs is complicated, it's been evolving in a more positive direction since that long bike ride. There's been a lot to unlearn and new habits to adopt, some more successfully than others. But the main lesson is that my legs are part of me, and it is really tiring to direct all that hate inward. I have worked hard not to look at my legs with derision. I have learned, cheesy as it may seem, to honor my thighs at the end of a yoga class. I always say namaste to my legs. I thank them after runs.
I wish I could claim that I truly love and accept my legs, but I am getting close. I am still fallible: shopping for pants can bring me down hard. I continue to strive to love my quads, my hamstrings, and my inner thighs. But in the end, I can say now that I am quite fond of my thighs. I enjoy their company. I hold my thighs in high esteem. I really enjoy hanging out with them. They do so much for me. Really, every step is a gift. Every jump, sprint, squat, skip, lunge, burpee, pedal stroke — these are daily gifts from my legs. They are big, but they are strong. These are my thighs. My thighs. And we're getting closer every day.