I have a confession to make that might get me into some trouble. Alas, in the name of female empowerment and in the interest of transparency, here it goes: I’m not particularly fond of my legs.
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For as long as I can remember, my gams have had a nickname that reference their size. I’ve run the gamut from “Thunder Thighs” to “Quadzilla,” and while I do embrace my body as a whole and love it so completely—my legs wouldn’t be something I’d pick out as my favorite. And while most people tend to look at abs as a marker of physical progress, I admire other women’s legs.
When people ask me what I like most about my body, I usually say my shoulders (my softball nickname was “Delts of Doom” for good reason) or my back. They’re the parts that I am comfortable showing off, the parts that are never the cause of anxiety or lamentation. My legs, however, are another story.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore their strength and muscularity. I love that I can squat 200 pounds and deadlift 300. I relish how fast I can sprint (especially for a hobbit-size girl) and how I make standing yoga poses my b*tch. These babies are built for performance, there’s no doubt about that. Aesthetically, though, I spent years hiding them as I was self-conscious of their girth. Shorts?! Eff no. Those were not a part of my wardrobe.
These days, although I wear my Quadzilla badge—and cut-off shorts—with genuine pride, I’m still not the biggest fan of my legs. When I gain fat, that’s where it goes, and oftentimes that means the difference between jeans fitting snuggly or failing to fit at all.
So when people compliment my gams, I am sincerely taken aback.
This happened to me recently while working out at Gold’s Gym in Venice—the mecca of bodybuilding. A fellow gym-goer tapped me on the shoulder. As I removed my headphones, I was confronted by an unexpected question from a tall, muscular dude, “How many days a week do you train legs? Because I want my legs to look like yours.” Quadzilla strikes again! There were several follow-up questions about exercises and rep schemes, to which I answered, “It depends,” “Heavy,” and “I train my legs every time I train.”
I’m not sure if my advice was helpful to him at all or if he really even intended to put it to use. But what I am sure of is how I felt when I walked out of the gym that day: utterly perplexed. I reflected on this interaction the entire bike ride home. My legs? You want your legs to look like my legs? It was something I just couldn’t wrap my head around.
Alas, this led me to a realization that I believe is important to all of us: What we see in the mirror is often not what the rest of the world sees. You can characterize this as body dysmorphia or simply attribute it to proximity bias. Either way, there’s a disconnect between what we see and what everyone else sees.
As I mentioned, my legs are not my favorite, but the thing I get the most compliments on? You guessed it—dem legz. Yet I am so hard on myself and so absurdly self-conscious about my legs that I fail to see them the way others do.
Since coming to this realization, I’ve made a conscious effort to give my lower body some much-needed love. I challenge them more physically and show them off more often. While I’m still sometimes hesitant to expose them, I also have a sense of growing pride and acceptance about them.
It’s a process, of course. One that takes regular practice and often involves two steps forward and one step back. I don’t always gravitate immediately to the positive and sometimes I have to check myself. After all, I spent the better part of 30 years hating my legs and change of this magnitude doesn’t happen overnight.
But all in all, I feel free—free from self-deprecation and undue apprehension, free from wardrobe limitations and fitting room frustration. And most of all, free from a life-long hatred of my own flesh. After all, life is too short to be so damn hard on our bodies.
This article originally appeared on NegharFonooni.com and was republished with the author’s permission. Neghar Fonooni is a fitness and lifestyle coach who’s passionate about empowering women through strength. The views expressed herein are hers. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.