I hate my thighs
I hate my thighs
Around age 10, I started to hate my thighs. It was a very strong and focussed hatred that came like a bolt of lightning out of a clear blue sky. To set the scene, this was a long time ago. Queen and ABBA dominated the music charts; my ABBA ‘Arrival’ tape was my dearest possession – that should locate these events in time for the curious reader.
Prior to the age of 10, I cannot recall thinking about my body much at all. It was something that I played in, had awkward fun with (I was always a bit klutzy and very bad at catching balls). It troubled and sometimes scared me when I had asthma attacks, but otherwise it was just a lovely thing to be in, in which nothing really jarred, stood out or clutched for my attention. At times the grandparents would crow over my looks telling me I was a ‘beeyoutiful’ little girl. Interesting that on reflection this praise was always creepy and irksome to me; an unnecessary provocation of the jealousy that far too often exists between mothers and their daughters. Always behind the praise was a mass of unexpressed agendas, and invisible knives thrust into my mother’s delicate vulnerabilities – that was what the child felt and recoiled from. The ‘beeyouty’ they spoke of did not feel beautiful at all, rather a deliberate focus on an outer shell, a set of pleasing features that could be used to outdo, crush and compete with another. Is that what it means to be ‘beeyoutiful’? To compete? To enter combat with everyone else? To be reduced to a satisfactory feature or two or three that favourably compared with (outdid) the features of another person?
Up until age 10, I was quite whole and fairly wholesome. Imperfectly and sweetly so. Seemingly untouched by versions of beauty that are entirely empty of what beauty is. But some part of me must have absorbed the unconscious message about ‘what beauty is” because after 10, everything changed.
It was then that this strange derangement struck, suddenly turning a part of my body into an enemy. This gross deformity of flesh (that was how I saw it) absorbed a degree of focus and attention that distressed me greatly at the time and simply makes no sense to me now as a slightly wiser adult. I would stand on a stool in front of my ornately framed bedroom mirror and stare at the offending curve on my outer thigh with unadulterated malice. I would pull the skin back with my hand to ‘fix’ the way it looked. Unfortunately, upon releasing my grip it would bound back into the offending shape and my disgust and hopelessness would boomerang back with the skin.
At some point I started punching the offending area, as though abuse might pull it into line and make it look the way it should.
Perhaps today I would have been diagnosed with something other than “being silly”, “what’s wrong with you?” and “have you done your homework?… no... well do it”. In the current era I probably would have been labelled ‘body dysmorphic’, maybe medicated, certainly counselled. Whether this would have helped or not I cannot say. To mentally weigh the possibilities of ‘what could have been’ is a waste of time – this sort of treatment didn’t happen back then. We were expected to get on with it. To be honest, there was something far easier and so much less entertaining of agonising introspection in those tougher, simpler times. I got on with it and eventually I got to a point of understanding, hence writing this now.
Around the time of the commencement of ‘thigh hating’ I had a school friend who had amazingly beautiful legs. They were long and perfectly shaped. I envied her legs. Was jealous of them. I wanted her legs, coveted them – relentlessly compared mine to hers and every time mine came up as sadly lacking, ugly and just wrong. I would become deeply and quite disproportionately dejected.
But hold on for a moment. I was 10 years old. It was 1978 (there you go – date and time stamped). There were none of the insidious influences that little girls must navigate today. I watched the Flintstones and danced to Dancing Queen. There was no Miley Cyrus, no Nicky Minaj to set an aspirational standard. The Kardashians did not exist, nor did videos on how to improve your body. Music videos were just that – musicians singing their own songs whilst their best mate filmed them on a hand held camera. Dorky, dull, zero production and minimal lacing with images of how the body must look. That changed quickly as we moved into the eighties. Body image ideals and body obsession boomed at that time, but if my experience is anything to go by, I had picked up something in the atmosphere… something that was already existent, powerful and denigrating… something that was corrupt and designed to corrupt a young woman’s attitude to her body, before she had commenced menstruation and entered the obvious arena of female competitiveness and incessant need to outdo each other. My grandparents praise had revealed this something. Now it took possession of my perception of my body.
How the heck, at age 10, did I even know what were ‘good’ legs (my friend’s) and what were ‘bad’ legs (mine)? Where did the idea, the ideal, the notion and its sickening, alienating, self and friendship destroying comparison come from?
Truly we have to ask this question, otherwise we ignore a stinking great occurrence that contaminates our purity (1970’s style), or we obsessively pore over it, pop-psychologise it into boring, never-to-be-resolved, self-obsession (2020’s style). In both cases we miss entirely the point that a child went from fairly close to complete freedom in her body and unself-conscious ease with it, to a girl who deeply hated a part of her body to the point of self-loathing and its outward expression in self-harm. Surely we have to wonder at that, and not write it off as a random thing that just happened. ‘Unlucky Rachel’.
No. There is no luck – good or bad. There is however a model of existence that wants us human beings, all of us, to not know what we are in truth, by essence, by light. Be at ease in your body and you stand a better than middling chance of coming to know the essence of yourself. Be in a body in which you feel yourself incomplete, ugly, at fault, flawed, ill-at-ease and you have guaranteed that that person will not settle into their essence. Every movement of their body will be corrupted by their hatred of it. A holding back of full and true expression – and guaranteed withdrawal in the most calculated and insidious of ways.
We think that we hate our _____ (fill in the blank). In fact we have been given a point of focus that will distract us, for decades, from settling deep into our body and moving it with utter freedom, grace and power. Not that fake, in-your-face strutting pretension that young women now use to disguise their insecurities. Sorry ladies, you are fooling no one – not even yourselves.
No. If we want to deal with body image issues for once and for all, we have to see them for what they are – an inhuman overlay on all of society, all of humanity, with one intent in mind – to stop us from claiming our bodies as vessels of divinity… beholders of the Soul should we make deep settlement, deep self-love and true unselfconscious joy in movement our way.
How do we do this? Simple. Move with the grace you are. Do not be moved by any ideal that presses you to think you are not ‘it’. Turn within to the essence of your inner heart, feel it, breathe with it. Move it. Look in the mirror by all means, but look with eyes connected to your inner heart, the depth of your being. See the whole, the wholeness, the wholesomeness of what you represent and mean in this world.
Could it be so simple?
This woman suggests that it is, having lived it and having reclaimed such truth for herself. You have nothing to lose but an external crush of ideals, and an entire setup designed to distract you from knowing who and what you are… and everything, truly everything that you are in truth to regain.