My legs are strong. My yoga practice helps keep them that way.
And I like them. Now I do.
In fact, I have a pretty strong attachment to both my legs and my feet.
This summer I wore shorts. And I wore them often.
I wore shorts when teaching my yoga classes. I wore them to the grocery store and on long walks in the park. I wore them when I met my friends for lunch and while learning to run in the mornings. I wore them out at night once, and with heels.
But I haven’t always had such a friendly relationship with these legs.
I started shaving my legs at age 9 because I was obsessed with the way they looked. Ghostly white skin, and with dark black hair covering my legs made me believe I might be part spider. Growing up in beachside Florida where all the girls seemed suntanned and care-free, this just wouldn’t do.
Once I started shaving my legs, the hair issue was no longer. It was the Casper-the-friendly-ghost look that bothered me.
Sure, there have been periods of my life where I’ve felt ok about being bare-legged.
But if my self-esteem was just the slightest bit fragile, I covered up with long pants, tights, pantyhose (argh), longer skirts. Any kind of vulnerability made me feel exposed. If I couldn’t hide my face, well, I could sure hide my legs easy enough.
A couple of years ago, I decided this disdain for legs had gone on long enough. It was interfering in my life as a Memphis woman (think of days as hot as blue blazes) and as a yoga teacher (the students really ought to be able to see the shapes of the poses).
Determined to break out of the leg shame loop, and started wearing shorts when alone or with a close friend.
That wasn’t so bad.
Then I started going out in my shorts.
It took a long grooming session that included choosing the perfect-length shorts so as not to show too much leg, a hot bath to shave, a cool shower to exfoliate and close the pores, a spray session with Sally Hansen leg make-up, and then contorting myself as I looked in the mirror to check for streaks and spots I might have missed.
As I’ve gotten older my legs are fleshier – and cellulite has formed on the back of them. Cellulite is fat that puckers up close to the surface of the skin, giving a dimpled or rumpled appearance.
Most women have cellulite, even teen-age athletes. And losing weight won’t cure it. There is a multi-million dollar industry built around convincing women that unsightly cellulite can be eliminated if you buy the right creams, vibrating machines, and eat a special diet.
I had a roommate once who underwent liposuction, where they put you under and vacuum fat out of your body with a long suction tube (think shop vac). She was in her early 30’s, 5’2″ and weighed just over 100 pounds. She hated her legs.
She saved for months to get the lipo, and put the rest of it on her credit card.
She told me about it in a hushed tone, after making me swear not to tell her secret.
A year later she was still paying off the procedure. She still had cellulite. And it still made her cry.
Cellulite might as well be a 4-letter-word among women of any age.
I don’t mind cellulite on anyone else. But on me, cellulite + pasty white legs has always equaled hideousness personified.
The Sally Hansen leg make-up spray gave my legs a healthy-looking glow under certain light, so I could go out in my shorts.
But there was a downside to it. The makeup rubbed off on my yoga mat and my clothes in a powdery residue. And I was always self-conscious about whether I had inadvertently missed a spot or created streaks.
And my legs itched for days afterward.
Going out bare-legged felt liberating that first summer — even if the Sally Hansen spray meant my legs weren’t exactly bare.
This summer I took it a step further. I decided to wear my shorts sans Sally, and left the spray can in the recesses of a storage drawer.
At 42, I have a curvy figure. Think hourglass. But not like Sofia Vergara hourglass. More like an hourglass hourglass with strong and fleshy hips and legs.
I put my shorts on and talked to those legs in the mirror. I do admit that I only looked in the one full-length mirror hanging strategically in a dimly lit room.
I asked my legs if they’d be okay if I focused less on how they look and more on what they do.
Wouldn’t you know those legs didn’t even answer me back. (Hey, I may be a bit OCD, but I’m not certifiable or anything!)
My legs provide support for me to walk and run, sit and stand. They provide a base for my spine and they carry around my (very large and often-overused) brain.
They take me on long walks in Overton Park, hiking along the Oregon Coast and touring the Umbrian countryside.
They spring into action when a friend needs help, and carry me away from places where I’d only find trouble.
My legs were steadfast when I got lost and could not find my way, and they kept me moving toward the place they knew I was heading.
Lately, my legs have been learning to run, and I’m up to 3 miles without stopping.
I think of the idiom, “I didn’t have a leg to stand on.”
People say this after they’ve fought hard for something, and lost anyway. As in losing a court case and starting the story with, “I lost. It’s not my fault. I didn’t have a leg to stand on.” It means the person lacked the support to achieve their goal, with no possibility of a positive outcome.
For my whole life, I have had full use of my two legs to stand, walk, run, sit, amble, forge ahead, dance, traipse and strut about on.
I am writing this blog post to let you know that as long as I’m alive, I do not want to be ashamed of my legs. I will not spend tons of money on quackery creams and potions to rid myself of cellulite. And I will not compare my legs to other people’s — even if they seem to have a better shape, darker tan or smoother texture. I am delighted to enter a new phase of life – where the defining characteristics of my legs are related to how they move me and where they take me.
This spirit is moving forward along with the rest of her iridescent and alabaster limbs.
Or you could say, until I am on my last legs, I will not have my tail between my legs about my legs. I will not pay an arm and a leg for products that I don’t need. I will not try to get a leg up by trying to make my legs conform to the shape of some ideal marketed to me. I have got my foot in the door, and I am dancing toward a place where my legs are valued for all the amazing things they do for me.
That’s it for now, because it’s time for me to put my shorts on one leg at a time and ease on down this road.