It all started in dance class, looking into the mirror at my legs which were not as long and thin as I would like them to be. Other dancers in my class had long legs, but I was all torso with short legs. I used to use tricks such as hiking up my leotard with a string that I used to tie through and in the back with a bow to make it high cut showing more hip making my legs look longer. I also used to get in trouble from my dance teacher because I would tie a sweatshirt around my waist to cover up my lower body. And like many women, when I sat in a chair with shorts on I was self conscious of how my thighs spread and if I got a glimpse of myself in a window my eyes would go straight to my legs thinking - "Ugh! My legs are so chunky." I also remember standing in the mirror and from behind grabbing my inner thighs to see what I would look like if my thighs were thin and didn't touch. C'mon girls, you have all done this…if only I had longer, thinner legs…
My legs were strong and had muscle and could do lots of turns in dance class, I could even do the splits. Actually I tore my hamstring doing the splits when I arrived for a performance late and didn't warm up and went in to the dance cold and dropped in to a split and ripped my hamstring. I had to wear a big brace to school and hobble around. But my hamstring miraculously healed and I was able to do the splits again. Isn't the human body amazing - how resilient it is? But I never appreciated this; instead I just hated my legs.
As I started to learn more about exercise science and realized all of the aerobics I was doing might not be helping my lower body situation and was making me store more fat than I was burning there, I switched up my exercise routine and made strength training my priority workout. My legs started to look closer to the shape I wanted, looking more toned and defined.
But I could do all of the Pilates and stretching I wanted and my legs are not going to become "long lean dancers legs." They were still short and still my least favorite part of my body. Even with being in the best shape of my life, my legs would still be my least favorite part. When I competed in fitness competitions my abdominals would get leaner and leaner and my legs were the very last to respond. I would usually stick with baggy black pants, the baggier the better!
The ironic thing is I married a man who happens to be a "legs" guy. He loves my legs. If I had a choice I would always wear pants, but with his encouragement occasionally I started to wear skirts. Isn't it interesting how my least favorite part of my body is his most favorite part? Sometimes we girls are just so hard on ourselves instead of enjoying our bodies. We are our own worst critic.
But this past year I had a huge realization about me and my relationship with my legs. I finished writing my book, The Female Body Breakthrough, and in my Fit Female Credo I have a ton of stuff about mindset and having positive mental dialogue and how powerful it is. And every once in awhile I would still catch myself having the occasional negative thought of, "My legs look fat." I always catch myself and say something positive immediately because I know how damaging this mental dialogue can be, but I was disappointed at how often this would pop in my head.
Between my legs looking closer to the way I want them to(they still aren't long :)) by using strength training and wearing skirts more often and the fact that I had graduated from my big baggy black pants to tight black pants that hugged my butt and legs, I was pretty proud of myself and how far I had come. I feel confident wearing and showing off my butt and legs in tight pants and tight jeans and in a skirt and do it more often and very rarely have issues with my legs anymore.
As confident as I feel now about my body(which I do) I am still a woman.... And occasionally even I would slip back into my old ways and have negative thoughts enter my head about my legs. Then a client said something to me - "You always wear black pants. So do I because it hides my legs." And I thought to myself…hmmm, why do I always "hide my legs" with black pants because I wanted to tell her, "You should show off your legs - they look great and you have worked hard to look as amazing as you do!"…but I couldn't because I was guilty of the same thoughts - to "hide my legs" with black pants. I was still self conscious of my legs.
Then I had lunch with a friend who I used to dance with and she mentioned something about how she wore pants because there was no way she wanted to show her legs off in the gym where she was meeting me because she was self conscious about her legs. Again this seemed absurd - why would she think that she has to wear pants to come in the gym? She isn't overweight and in fact looks great. But then I realized these are the exact same thoughts that I have.
A few weeks ago I started training for the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) Half Ironman and am raising money for the organization. My niece is my inspiration and is who I am doing it in honor of because she is going to be able to benefit from CAF and what they offer to get her involved in sports she may otherwise not be able to play. I was out on my bike riding 50 miles or something crazy like that and it hit me - Why in the world would I ever spend another day, minute, second not being completely grateful for my legs and what I can do with them - I can run, I can bike, I can lift weights, I can dance, I can do anything with these wonderful legs and my niece would love to have them. I love my legs! My legs should be my most favorite body part, not my least!
You see, my niece came in to this world with determination, born 3 months premature and weighing only 2 pounds. She is truly a miracle. She spent the first months of her life in an incubator at UCLA to continue her development until her lungs were strong enough to breathe on her own. She had to have Lasik eye surgery a couple times because her eyes weren't developed yet, she also had to have a shunt put into her head which drains fluid off of her brain and she will have that for her lifetime. And as she grew into the unstoppable girl that she is now we discovered that being born premature had resulted in her having Cerebral Palsy (CP). Her CP affects her lower body and basically means that her nervous system is telling her legs to be switched on all the time so she can't relax her muscles and then contract them, instead they are always contracted and in tone. This makes it difficult for her to control her legs and walk without a walker. She has to wear braces to put her feet and ankles in a position so that she can walk on them. She can take a couple of steps, but needs a walker or help for anymore and is unable to run. This is a permanent condition and will not get worse, but is not something she will grow out of. She has hit many milestones in her development and has pushed her limits to do more than the doctors thought she would. When she was first diagnosed, the doctor said - "See how she doesn't move one leg and then the other." Well, within the week she was moving one leg and then the other. Then it was that she couldn't go from kneeling to up on her knees and once again she was kneeling no problem within the week. It was like she just needed to hear what she couldn't do and she was determined to prove them wrong. After being told she would never be able to get around on her own she now, using a walker and with braces on, gets around with no problem.
Marie is 7 years old now and has had more obstacles in her first years of life than most of us will ever have in our lifetime. Heck this little girl has had 5 brain surgeries, and 2 Lasik eye surgeries and she is legally blind in one eye. So having CP isn't going to get her down or keep her from doing everything she wants. Where there is a will there is a way, and let me tell you this little girl has the will! She has an amazing personality, is so outgoing and smart and is one of the most popular girls in school because she is so friendly. The last thing she wants is for you to feel sorry for her. She just wants to be your friend and may need some help getting around every once in awhile, but loves to have fun! Like I said, she came in to this world determined and will go after and have everything she wants in life. Nothing will stop my niece as she grows up and overcomes the obstacles she has been faced with at such a young age. She is always asking me to go exercise and loves coming to the gym to do a workout never putting any limitations on her self.
Despite having, as my niece's best friend at school puts it, "legs that don't work very well", my niece will grow up being active, using her body and loving her legs and everything she has because she is a miracle. She doesn't see any limits for herself. I hope to inspire her to be the best she can be. I feel like my niece and I are kindred spirits - she inspires me everyday and my motivation for what I do in life is to be a role model for her as she grows up.
I think about her when I think about the vision for our gym in 5-10 years and how it will be a place she can come to exercise, she can work, and be involved in exercise and fitness. I think about her when I work out and how I have no excuse because she doesn't give herself an excuse. She inspires me every day.
Then it hit me - How can I possibly hope to be an inspiration to my niece if I am still having occasional thoughts that my legs are fat. How can I even think that? Why would that even cross my mind?
I have no reason to complain. I vow that I will never ever have even a fleeting negative thought, feel ashamed, self conscious, or ever feel anything other than total and complete appreciation for my legs and what I can do with them. I will wear shorts and skirts more often, I will show them off and I will even try to stray from my favorite black pants every once in awhile. Although I do love my black lululemon pants, so no promises to not still have them as a staple in my wardrobe, but I promise to not use them to "hide my legs" and instead to show off my legs! My legs will be one of my favorite parts of my body!
I hope this article will open the eyes of other women in the world who might feel self conscious about their legs to once and for all enjoy your body! Enjoy your legs! Run and cycle more miles with them, lift more weight with them, dance to more songs with them, do those last few reps you didn't want to do with them in your workout and never ever have a negative thought about your legs again! Think about my niece who doesn't complain and I think you can agree you have no reason to complain!
I hope you will join me in this vow to stop body bashing as the Fit Female Credo goes (learn more about this in my book, The Female Body Breakthrough, released November 10th) and enjoy your body!
To help me raise money for the CAF organization click my website to make a donation - http://sdtc09.kintera.org/rachel