It might have been 1970. I was wearing a skirt, walking to school.
As I passed two girls, I heard them comment on my very thin legs. It’s my first memory of body awareness. I had a vague idea of the length of my legs before that because my mother had trouble finding pants that would fit both my waist and the length of my legs, but now I knew they were unusually thin; I heard it said.
I didn’t wear a dress or skirt until after college…well, once in 1974, but that’s it. I looked around for other legs like mine but never found them.
When I did wear a skirt or dress after college, or when I was on the beach, I was always painfully aware that they were there, and that they could be ridiculed. I tried to focus on the fact that they were healthy, working legs but to a young girl, and then a teen and young adult, the consolation didn’t last.
But the legs that were the thorn at my side came to redeem themselves. With these legs I ran seven marathons and many shorter races. With these legs I cycled hundreds of miles. With these legs I have danced away many hours. Sometimes someone will ask if it was me running on the towpath on a particular day. When I ask how they knew it was me, I often hear, “recognized the legs”. But today I smile when I hear that, and I did finally see legs like mine when I ran in Tanzania.
I was at the gym preparing for a boxing class one day about two years ago when I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was a woman I was acquainted with from classes there. She said, “I just have to tell you, your legs are beautiful. They’re up to here!” (she touched her chin). It took me a few seconds to swallow the instant and unexpected knot in my throat and utter, “That’s so kind of you to say, thank you so much.” That lady had no idea what she did that day for the little girl still inside the woman. Today I bless my long thin legs, no matter what they look like; they allow me to do so much.
Author: Monica Coughlin
Editor: Caroline Beaton
Photo: Author’s own