One the many tasks that fell to me following my father’s passing from cancer was cleaning out his apartment.
He was a minimalist to begin with and had thrown away a lot of stuff in preparation for his death, so there wasn’t a lot for me to go through. One thing I did take, however, was a photo album. Along with photos dating back 40 years or so of people and vacations I had no prior knowledge of, there were several photos of me as a child.
One in particular caught my attention. In it, I am about three or four years old and posing with my then-best friend/neighbor, Erin. Besides the fact that Erin is blonde and Caucasian and I am as dark and Asian as they come, another difference is our legs. Indeed, I caught myself saying it aloud, “Even back then, I had fat legs.”
“Tree stumps,” “piano legs”—growing up, I heard it all.
Despite the fact that neither of my parents were particularly thin—and at one time my mother was clinically obese—both were obsessed with my weight. “You’re so thin,” my mother would sigh, “except for those legs.” Even my father, the man who passed those legs onto me via his DNA, would take the time to point out my “flaw.” His nickname for me was “fat baby,” and he continued to call me that well after I stopped being a baby.
To say that I was self-conscious was an understatement. Like many, I associated thin with “good” and “desirable.” The fact that I could not diet or exercise my way to thinner legs was a source of never-ending frustration.
I couldn’t deny they were big—most of the time, they wouldn’t even fit in most boots. There was nothing I could do about them but there was something one could and that was make sure the rest of me was as thin as possible.
That task was relatively easy. As someone with a naturally high metabolism and who tended to eat less rather than more under stress, I took pride in my thin upper body. While I never had an eating disorder per say, I was always careful of how much I ate and certainly had body image issues.
It probably didn’t help that my first serious college boyfriend had a preference for thin, waif-like bodies straight of of the Calvin Klein ads that were everywhere in the 1990s. Although he never said it outright that he was disappointed with my body, he did say once that I could “afford to lose some weight, especially in the lower body.”
Whether it was his intention of not, his words hurt immensely.
Years later, as I transitioned into a health nut and found yoga, I thought I achieved a certain level of body acceptance. I spoke a lot about “every body being beautiful,” but I never stopped being obsessed with my legs. When I learned that there was actual a procedure to reduce the size of bulky calves, I seriously considered it. The only thing that stopped me was the possible side effects which included nerve and/or muscle damage: I figured if given the choice, I’d rather be able to walk normally and pain-free than have skinny calves and do neither.
Still, I told myself I had to get over it once my daughter was born nearly six years ago lest I pass on my insecurities onto her. I made it a point to never criticized my body or anyone else’s in front of her.
I truly thought I was finally free until I saw that photo and my thoughts turned immediately to the size of my legs.
I wasn’t free, and I am still not even after realizing that fact. Like many things in my life, learning to become free of that sort of negativity and self body-shaming is an ongoing process.
As I previously wrote, my father’s death liberated me from many things. I am slowly beginning to realize that much like his projections onto me that I was a failure for failing to meet certain professional goals, so was his (and my mother’s) obsession with my “fat” legs.
Often, when I’ve tried to explain my body issues I have been met with scorn or disbelief. As one acquaintance sneered, “Please! You’re tiny! You know nothing what it is like to be overweight or have real struggles with weight!” While that may be true, that person failed to get the point: for many who struggle with body image issues, the problem has little or nothing to do with how others see them. Rather, it is how they see themselves or in my case, how they see themselves by being constantly told from an early age that something is wrong with them whether it is the case or not.
While I wish I could conclude with saying that I am finally “cured” and love my body completely as is, it isn’t the case. However, I notice now that the appearance of my legs bothers me less than they did before despite the emergence of some pesky varicose veins that have recently debuted since having my second child.
Just like my relationship with my father was what is was, so is my body. Learning to accept it does not mean that I have to find it beautiful or perfect, rather it means accepting I have larger-than-average legs for someone my weight and being okay with it. On a promising note, for the first time since I was in high school, I intend to wear shorts in public this summer and let my over-sized legs be visible to the world.
I doubt anyone will even notice them and hopefully, I won’t either.
Author: Kimberly Lo
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: via the author