“Mom, you look hot.”
We were in Hawaii on our family vacation a couple of years ago when my daughter stopped me as I was putting on yet another maxi dress to head down to the beach. “You need to just put on a bathing suit,” she said.
She was right. We had been in paradise for several days, staying at a resort with a beautiful pool that was within feet of the gorgeous beach. Instead of kicking back and enjoying the island life, I was sweltering in the heat under the sun. It had nothing to do with my lack of appropriate beach wear, and everything to do with my legs.
When I was growing up, I was super skinny. Everyone would always comment on how thin my legs were, and liken them to everything from toothpicks to sticks. I hated it. As a black girl coming of age in the ’90s, being “thick” was in. My skinny legs were embarrassing, so I kept them covered up, sometimes wearing two pair of jeans at once to fool folks into thinking I was thicker than I was really was.
As I got older, and certainly after I had my first child, I put on some weight. After years of people expressing concerns that I was “too thin,” I was grateful to be what some people considered to be a “typical” size. I didn’t get to appreciate that for long though, because then I started hearing comments about my big legs. FML.
I couldn’t believe it. It was like I couldn’t win. Tired of listening to people giving their opinions about my body, I decided that it was easier to stay covered up. Even in the summer. Even in Hawaii. Sure, I was hot, but with my legs out of sight, no one could say anything to me about them.
What do I not like about my legs exactly? Well, there’s no definition but plenty of cellulite. My thighs move even when I’m sitting still. My cankles don’t do my legs any favors, either. While I hate to complain, it’s hard not to notice their flaws when so many people feel like they can comment on what they look like. For instance, a well meaning friend from church once remarked about how my “big legs” made a short skirt look even shorter. She was just joking, but what she didn’t know was that I had gone back and forth about wearing that skirt at all in the first place. I felt self-conscious for the entire church service after that.
But that day in Hawaii, when we were headed to the beach and my daughter called me out for my uncomfortable beach attire, it hit me that I needed to get over my leg issues. Besides looking ridiculous trying to frolic in the ocean wearing a maxi dress, I was sending harmful messages to my daughter.
What does it show her if Mommy can’t even enjoy vacation because I’m so uncomfortable with my god-given appearance? How will she grow up thinking about herself and what she looks like (especially since she has the same skinny legs I had years ago)? Why do I care more about what other people might say or feel about the way I look than wearing clothes that will let me have fun on the beach with my family?
I changed into a swimsuit that day. For the first time in forever, I was able to run through the waves with my arms in the air, rather than cautiously stepping into the water with my long skirt gathered in my hands trying not to get it too wet. It was the most fun I’d had in awhile, and I didn’t notice my thighs jiggling once.
Later on, as I was sitting on a towel in the sand drying off under the sun, I noticed that I’d missed a spot shaving. And I didn’t even care. I laid back with my hands behind my head, and crossed my legs with not a self-conscious care in the world. My daughter ran up, sat next to me and said again, “Mom you look hot.” I told her that I felt good. The temperature was just right. “No,” she said, “you look hot in that bathing suit. I told you so!”
Yup, she did. And she was absolutely right.