As a child, I was a dancer. Ballet, mostly. I didn’t have any real talent or on-stage charisma, but I loved it. Loved it.
And, while it was a happy, healthy environment for me, there’s this one conversation I remember all these years later. A classmate who was a year below me in school, but far ahead of me in ballet was pulling on sweats after class to go home and commented to me, “You are so lucky you’re so skinny. My thighs are so fat that they touch in first position.“
That’s my first real memory of any sort of conversation about weight, skinny versus fat (not even fat), or being good enough. What a doozy.
Fifteen years later, I realize that to women and girls with eating disorders or body image issues, that girl in my dance class was talking about the “thigh gap,” which is glamorized, coveted, and promoted on many “thinspiration” or “thinspo” websites. Interestingly, I have this vague memory of another conversation years later, in which a very good friend told me she had learned that the fat on a woman’s thighs is physically necessary in order for a woman to give birth; that without it, the muscles in a woman’s legs would tear when giving birth. And there are websites celebrating the GAP between a girls’ thighs?
At 15 years old, completely healthy and because that’s the way my body was developing at the time, my thighs didn’t touch in first position. For years, people have complimented me on having nice legs (in a friends-paying-compliments way, not a creepy way). In the past several years, my body has continued to change and I’m heavier now than I was three years ago or than I would like to be six months from now. When I go for a long run in warm weather, I BodyGlide the heck out of any inch of skin that might even maybe touch another inch of skin, including my thighs.
I’m not going to lie. I’ve looked in the full length mirror in my bedroom and sucked in my belly as hard as I could. I’ve pinched my love handles, checked out my chin, and stood on tip toe to get a glimpse at my flexed calf muscles. They’re all imperfect, but at some point I realized this is my body. It’s the one I’ve got. Not only that, it’s carried me through six marathons, 12 half marathons, and thousands of training miles. My legs aren’t a ballerina’s, but they are strong.
I hadn’t thought about that conversation in ages, though it makes me think of another I’ll address someday soon, but I watched a new ad for Dove that brought it to mind. Dove does an outstanding job at addressing what real beauty is. They have started a dynamic conversation through print ads and 30-second spots. Check out their most recent three-minute documentary about selfies as part of their #beautyis campaign.
Have you had conversations or realizations like this? What “flaws” can you reframe? How would you answer, #beautyis: _______________?