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Making Peace With My Body Image Insecurities, Part 1

speedwork

“6 Exercises For Great Arms”

“Get a Flat Tummy In Just 10 Minutes A Day!”

“Tone Your Butt With These 8 Moves”

I’m confronted by headlines like this from women’s magazines and online articles several times a day. Sometimes I’m sucked in by the desire to find out if it is really possible to get my abs to be flat and tight after having three kids. Most of the time I glide right by them without a second thought. More recently I’ve been curious: why focus on just arms? Or just abs? Or just butts? Isn’t this another way of telling women their butts are too big? Their arms too jiggly?

And maybe some of my curiosity stems from the fact that nobody ever wants to improve the shapeliness of my calves. Yes, calves. They are my weak spot, the part of my body that I sometimes cringe to think about. I blame my calves whenever I tell someone how much I weigh and their response is, “Really? Where do you hide all that?” It’s always my calves that give me trouble when I’m trying on knee-high boots or skinny jeans. I have bigger calves than my husband. I’ve told him more than once that I married him for his nice shapely legs. I wanted to give my kids half a chance at a nice pair.

When I first started running, I imagined that once I got good, once I could run several miles, my calves would thin out. But they didn’t. They never have.

For many years I was nervous about exposing my legs to the world. I wore long skirts and long pants and made comments about how if anybody saw my calves, they would know why: no one should be subjected to the torture of having to see my naked calves. But eventually I realized a few things about my body image insecurities: 1. Nobody notices. Nobody cares to analyze the shapeliness of my calves or sees them as anything more than part of my legs. And if nobody else is paying attention, why should I? It seems like a waste of mental energy. 2. I have many other features that are on the “normal-great” stretch of the spectrum. Why focus on the part that is slightly unsightly and ignore everything that is good and great about my body? And 3. My body works just fine, blob-ish calves and all. And if it’s not broke, I probably shouldn’t stress about trying to fix it.

These days I think there is danger in separating out parts of our body to be examined and found wanting, not only because of the subtle way in which it suggests that our bodies are not good enough, but because it overshadows the importance of looking at our bodies as a whole and appreciating them for what they can do. Each part has a job to do, each part contributes. Even if one part is not our favorite to look at, it’s unfair to overlook its actual function. And to be honest, my calves do a dang good job at being calves. They’ve been there for me through 5 marathons and the training leading up to them. They help me walk the streets of Brooklyn for sometimes miles at a time while I run errands, visit friends, and take my kids to appointments, playgrounds, libraries, and museums. And they keep me running and feeling good about the rest of my body even if they have thwarted my attempts at skinny jeans.

I’m satisfied with my calves they way they are, even happy with them. Still, I imagine that if someone were to come forward with a foolproof workout to taper cankles or shave an inch off the circumference of my calves, I’d probably jump on it. I have a hard time passing up a chance to strive for something better. To say nothing of the example I want to set for my daughter . . . but that’s another topic, one that I’ll cover tomorrow.

 

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