But something told me it wasn’t ok to love my perfectly tall and thin body. I needed to find something to fix. So I started looking. And looking. And looking. For the first time in my life, I squinted at, stared at and scrutinized every angle of myself in a mirror until I finally developed this much-desired critical eye. I had a deliberate intention to find something wrong, because that’s what my friends were all talking about. They were talking about what they want to change about themselves. They were talking about how they “hate this” and “hate that”. I learned that this was something I was supposed to start saying now. So in order to build a case against myself, I started to quiz my friends and family what they would change about me if they could. I started benchmarking. I started looking at other women who were 5’9 and in the public eye. As it happens, many of them were famous for being actresses and models. And then I started realizing what was wrong with me. Of course! I wasn’t one of them. Finally, I got what I was looking for… that first taste of dissatisfaction of myself, the bitter taste of disapproval. When “Pretty Woman” came out, I had a long hard look at Julia Roberts’ legs, and her skin, and her teeth, and that’s when it struck me. I’m not good enough. I’m not Julia Roberts.
One summer afternoon during one of these self-absorbed mental saunters, I asked my sister’s boyfriend to tell me what he thought of my looks, my body. He was actually the only guy (around) my age that I knew at the time, so his words could hold no greater power. He was Every Man. After telling me to strip down to my underwear (which I accepted without question; of course, how else would he be able to answer my very straightforward question?), he too seemed to scrutinize me – his eyes staring at the bottom of my legs and slowly traversing across my body and upwards, until I felt thoroughly diagnosed. He was 24, I was 17. After a long pause, and a furrowed brow from him, he told me in flat affect that my calves were too skinny. My calves were too skinny? Well that was a new one. Hadn’t thought about that one. So I nodded enthusiastically, ok… a goal, I thought. And began to I eat like crazy. Make more shapely calves, got it. Throw doughnuts and cream buns and sausage rolls at the pipe that led from my throat to my calves, and voila, shapelier lower legs. What I actually grew was the first in a long list of unintended consequences of things that happened to my body and mind when I first started trying to “fix” my legs. Like the fact that I couldn’t fit in to my jeans. The skin under my jeans had started to stretch and buckle against the new soft flesh I was creating. It was groaning at me, telling me something was happening too fast. Like a forewarning. But, of course, I didn’t listen, I just looked in the mirror more closely and found one more thing to hate. Julia Roberts didn’t have ugly angry lines on her legs; she didn’t have skinny calves. Her long, perfect legs loved her just as she loved them. They wrapped around things for her like pretty ribbons. They were the bow on her perfect package.
See how effortlessly sexy her legs are? Oh, for such gifts…
Some of my friends at school, noticing that I was the last in my class in an all-girls-school to get a bra, started calling me, “pancake P” (as in, flat as a pancake). Fifteen years later, to prove them all wrong, bought a set of fake boobs and had them strapped to the muscles inside my chest. Hurrah, I thought. I now have a comeback! No more name calling in the schoolyard! The thing is… I no longer had any of those friends in my life, and I lived half a world away, so I had no one of relevance to whom I could make such a pronouncement. Just the shadows in my head. (And my boyfriend at the time (who was, granted, a demonstratively grateful beneficiary of the acquisition)). So my breasts, once sensitive and nubile and refined and balletic, now today look like the beacons of a lighthouse on a desolate peninsula. They, and I, are separate entities. They enter a room before I do and upstage me, if I let them. They command attention away from my face, my soul. They signal to all through blinding distraction that an insecure woman is approaching.
Later still, I discovered that I had cellulite. I didn’t realize cellulite existed until a friend was complaining about hers, so, of course, I had to examine my own. Now I had one more thing to hate about myself. The list was growing. More to hate. More on the fixit list. I stopped wearing shorts, and stopped going to the gym because I hated my reflection in the mirror. The list goes on. Full body-wraps, thermal workout clothes. Spanx. The more I tried to patchwork-quilt my body to perfection, the more I added physical and psychological scars to myself.
But just recently, like in the last few weeks, I finally I stopped to reflect (rather than criticize). These thighs have been through epic battles of an existential nature. They have experienced and survived more judgment and harm than my prefrontal cortex did during my (near) 15 year career on Wall Street. My legs are tough, yet soft, and full of scars, dents and ripples. They are pale and pink, and dotted with freckles. My legs define commitment, hard work, and unconditional love in spite of ridicule. They get me around, mostly pain-free, despite the rejection and diminishing words they have been subjected to on a daily basis from myself and (a small number of) others. They are my legs. They make me able to take for granted my existence in the world. They fucking rock.
My thighs are an effigy, a poem, a landscape. They are patterned with stretch marks and cellulite and bruises. Both my knees have deep scars from childhood accidents, which are now beginning to be latticed with wrinkles. Yes, wrinkles in my scars. My feet are deformed from wearing pointed ballet shoes and from striding for mile up on Manhattan mile in status-enhancing-but-health-compromising Christian Louboutins. My hip bones are so mis-aligned from scoliosis that I look like two halves of pictures taken of completely different people, photoshopped together. The fat that once sat on my hips in a precocious, slightly tempting way, has somehow moved north and around the corner to lower portion of my back and midsection. I’m not disappointed; I’m kind of amused, actually. She’s sneaky, this new little mound of back fat. Much more evolved than the dopey, unconscious fat of my early 20s. My back fat is like a naughty child playing hide-and-seek. So, like any great game player, I don’t go looking.
So here’s to you, my two thighs. Thank you for what you have taught me about myself, and for never giving up, and for maintaining your higher purpose. I promise not to throw so many insults at you in future, no matter how beaten-up and splodgy you look. I’m glad you belong to me. You’re a tale of complexity and ambiguity, told in Braille on dirty white parchment.