I still don’t know how to love my body unconditionally.
It was an unseasonably warm Spring morning in Manhattan.
Besides the flat tops of a few nearby buildings, the sun sat like a fat, unpeeled orange in the sky. As I neared the corner of 110th Street and Cathedral Parkway, to catch the downtown C train, I imagined that the sun had given the clouds the day off and that they were still snoozing somewhere above Kansas or Missouri. And that’s when I heard a guy walking behind me blurt out,
“Damn miss, your legs are ugly!”
Earlier, as I ate breakfast and even while I showered, I wrestled with the idea of wearing the only skirt I owned to work that day. I knew, once I decided, as I pulled that gray, knee length A-line up over my body and as I reached behind to secure the zipper that I’d be leaving my bulging, oversized calves exposed for the world to see. But for some reason, that morning, I decided to take an uncharacteristically wide step out of my comfort zone and try something new. Besides I thought, what’s the worst that can happen?
The worst, it turned out, would be a slight yet persistent teenage boy in high-top sneakers and a white T-shirt. When I didn’t turn around the first time to acknowledge him, he yelled even louder. “Damnnn!” He repeated, “You need to cover those legs up miss.”
As I scurried down the subway stairs, in a pair of Payless heels, feeling mortified, I knew I had no business judging that kid because he wasn’t saying anything to me that I hadn’t said to myself before. And at the time, I agreed with him; I thought my calves were damn ugly too.
Growing up, I was aware of the many ways in which my body was different from the other girls my age, but the size of my calves, always out of proportion with the rest of my average-sized body, never became a conscious issue for me. It wasn’t until my 20s, when I left the small town I grew up in for Manhattan, that I suddenly became painfully self-conscious of the extra bulk I was carrying below my knees.
I remember one Friday night meeting up with a girlfriend at her apartment. Our plan was to get a good buzz going before we hit up the local bars. I sat crossed-legged on her bed, nursing a red wine, as she toggled between straightening her hair and curling her eyelashes. In her closet, I noticed two gorgeous pairs of knee high boots. I didn’t own any boots like that at the time so I dove onto the floor to try them on.
Quickly I learned that skinny boots, or any boot that dares to rise above the ankle, would forever be out of bounds for me. No matter how hard I tried, I could not wrap the leather of that boot around my calf. For a solid five minutes, it felt like I was trying to stuff a bulging, purple eggplant into a latex condom.
Sensing my frustration, my friend tried to suggest that perhaps we weren’t the same shoe size, but that’s the thing: we were. I didn’t say it out loud, but I knew my gigantic calves were the one and only difference.
Over the years, I’ve created an intricate system of rules that keep my calves safely hidden from judging eyes, especially in the summer when shorts and sundresses rule. Bathings suits are an absolute no and have been for over 20 years. I avoid hotel swimming pools, hot tubs, and the beach at all costs. But if a visit to the beach is unavoidable. I will rock a pair of jeans (not skinny, of course) even in the middle of August.
Capri or cropped anything also gets a big no, as well as any sandal with an ankle strap. Maxi dresses, although they completely overwhelm and distort my hour-glass shape, are the only acceptable option. But the dress can’t have any sexy slits meant to expose the legs, and it can’t be one of those maxi dresses with see-through/curtainesque material at the bottom.
Although I’ve clearly succeeded in building a textiled Fort Knox around my calves, I realize there’s a hefty price to pay for it all, and I’m paying for it with my life.
Beyond surgery, the only other option I see is acceptance. That would mean giving up control and risking the possibility that no matter how evolved I become, there will still be people who will judge and think my calves are ugly. Even as a woman in my 30s, with plenty of life experiences to call on, I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t know how to love my body unconditionally, and I find the idea overall to be quite overwhelming.
From where I stand today, I can’t imagine myself becoming the kind of woman who could walk confidently to the subway, in a knee-length skirt, leaving her bulging calves unapologetically exposed for the world to see… and not give a damn if some unwieldy teen in a white tee thinks she should cover them up. As a result, there’s a part of me that believes it would be much easier to continue to hide than it would be to heal.
But despite my confusion and fears, there is one piece in all of this that gives me hope. A year ago, I wouldn’t have dared to write publicly about my calves. So, I consider this a small yet mighty first step, in the right direction, of hopefully many more to come.
Comment: How do you be accepting of your body?
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