I rarely get manicures. The polish always chips within a day, and I hate looking at chipped polish. If I get a mani, it’s always clear – I refuse to stress over nail polish. Pedicures, on the other hand, are pure bliss. They last longer, they remind me of summer, you can read something while they dry, and you can wear flip flops. So when my friend from work asked if I wanted to get an impromptu pedicure and cocktail one Friday afternoon, I was thrilled. In my excitement, however, I had forgotten about one thing.
As we were walking out the door, I suddenly stopped and touched her arm. “I don’t think I can go,” I blurted. “I’m wearing jeans!”
I was wearing jeans. Since the trend of skinny jeans has not yet left the building, my calf muscles are constantly confined, barely able to breathe through tightly stretched denim. Wearing said jeans while trying to relax during a pedicure is impossible; there is risk of circulation cut off, not to mention the humiliation I would have to endure.
“OOOh, too tight, too big.” The lady at the salon will tap me, as she tries in vain to lift the fabric over the lower part of my leg and breathes heavily, like she’s competing in an Olympic sport. No woman, I don’t care how comfortable she is with her physique, is excited when she hears the phrases “too big” and “too tight” in reference to one of her body parts. And while calves may not seem like a huge deal, they used to be a source of embarrassment to me. I let comments about them contribute to the negative image I had of my body.
“Girls who play sports get fat.”
“Jennifer,” (Let’s give her a quintessential 80’s name.), reported this to me in sixth grade. I was eleven, Bruce Springsteen was my jam, and soccer was my game. Weaving my way through the weirdness of middle school, I was beginning to know myself and the rush I got from being active, whether I was playing soccer, swimming, or simply running like a child. I was also starting to compare myself to other girls. If you are familiar with, or remember, middle schoolers, you know they come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Girls can develop early and wear women’s clothing, or they can remain tiny and look like they wear a 6X. I was somewhere in between. Until that year, I hadn’t given my calves – or the rest of my body – much thought.
“Look,” Jennifer pointed below my knee. “Fat.” Then she hoisted one leg onto a desk and pointed to her calf. “Skinny.” Red hot shame burned through my insides. Someone had just called me fat. Being eleven, I wasn’t able to separate facts from fiction. My calves were bigger than hers because they were strong, I was not fat, and so what the f*!*! if I was?? But the way I saw it, if one person thought I was fat, then other people must think it as well, and in middle school, that thought was devastating. From that moment on, I thought about ways to hide my calves. I even changed the way I dressed to cover them. Unfortunately, this complex plagued me, and I let it seep its way into my whole body. It got worse in seventh grade, when I woke up with boobs. Boys started paying attention to me, and I felt nervous and ashamed; I even tried to conceal my chest by taping it down. I know. I’m lucky I didn’t end up in the ER.
In retrospect, I know shouldn’t have let “Jennifer” dictate how I viewed my body, but at the time, I didn’t have the tools to shrug her off, laugh at the absurdity of her comment, or even retaliate. I wasn’t taught how to accept my physical being, let alone love it. Body parts didn’t exist in my house; I was always afraid to talk about how I felt, and my mom was always trying to be thinner. To have been called fat was embarrassing to admit. I thought being thin was the ideal girls were supposed to strive for.
It’s ironic that the one thing I didn’t do was quit sports. I don’t even think I made the connection that being athletic was developing the muscles I once wanted to hide. It just felt so good to play. Soccer became my solace. Running gave me a sense of freedom and cleared my head. Swimming let me spend summers lifeguarding and not fearing the ocean. Later on, I learned how to incorporate weight training into my routine, and I uncovered muscles other than my calves. I’m so grateful for them now – they provide me strength, power, and longevity. They helped me heal quickly from two c-section surgeries. They will help me recover if I injure myself in the future, they will protect my bones as I get older, and they will even let me rock a bathing suit this summer.
Sorry, Jennifer, but girls who play sports don’t get fat, they get fit.
So although I freaked for a moment that Friday afternoon, I went for the pedicure with my coworker. The woman in the salon broke a sweat as she pushed my jeans as far up my leg as they would go. And when she glanced up at me, exasperation in her eyes, I just shrugged and smiled. “Just let the jeans get wet,” I told her. “My calves are used to it.”