12 July 2021
I Love My Legs
Last night, I needed to be alone. My entire day had been filled with emptying boxes and everything ached – especially my mind. It was the third day in a row of slicing tape, throwing paper, staring at objects and wondering, “Where the f*** does this go in this house?” You’d think unpacking would be mindless, but it’s not. It’s basically Olympic-level cerebral gymnastics. So it dawned on me that perhaps I should do some domesticating instead for a moment, that it might be a nice break. My first break included folding laundry in front of a movie – because the couch and TV, at least, were unpacked and functional.
Afterward, I word vomited a bit (“What Lies Beyond the Lens”), then needed a complete break. All of this stuff keeps coming at me from all directions about self-care, and generally speaking, I have no idea what my self-care should encompass. These suggestions tend to fall upon me and wash over me like water off a duck’s back because I cannot seem to capture them – they are meaningless if you do not know how. And it’s my guess that each person views self-care differently, too. What might be self-care for one person (perhaps watching a movie), could be torturous to another person (watching a movie when the mind won’t be still). I’d watched a movie and folded (my brain was bored – it was too little), then I took a bath and tried to read Simone de Beauvoir (my brain revolted – it was too much). So then, what was self-care, for me?
Pondering this with no clear solution, I noticed the trees dancing in turbulent wind in the backyard and stepped outside to see what was going on. The sky was muted in an orange-grey color, the color of Abilene skies during tornado season, yet the sun had not set. It was light-dark out – a strange middle space, a moment outside of time for want of a setting sun marking its path of descent toward the horizon. It was – magical.
I closed the door behind me and walked barefoot through the grass to the platform swing my daughter hung from our largest tree two days ago. The platform is suspended just 4-6 inches from the ground, yet it is enough: my aching legs lowered my ass down onto the middle of the black spiderweb rope platform, then my feet pushed gently in a line parallel to the tree’s trunk. With that gentle movement, I pulled my feet up in front of me on the platform in a cannonball position and the wind engulfed my body, lifting my hair, caressing my thighs, trailing across my chest. My eyes, of their own volition, drooped and closed – and I breathed.
Still I was uncomfortable; my legs needed space to breathe, too. Scooting my butt forward and leaning back, my body found a relaxed reclined position; the rigid frame of the platform supported just behind my skull. My legs had nowhere to go but up. Up, up the rope toward the tree branch and sky my legs stretched; my toes wrapped themselves effortlessly about the rope, allowing my feet, my calves, my quads, my hamstrings to rest – to recover. Inversion is heaven.
As the swing passed over the ground, my hair began to trail in the gravel, so I gathered it all in my hands, twisted it, and tucked it under my head where my skull connected with the swing frame: a natural pillow.
Above me, the tree danced riotously. A locust commenced its loud song. The wind tossed leaves about and created a symphony. Out over the grass beside me, June bugs lifted their heavy bodies, like C-130s, in arced flight patterns from one blade to another, in search of sustenance. A whole different world wakes up at dusk.
And my mind…settled.
The cacophony calmed. Focus became both feasible and desirable. As my eyes climbed up the tree, the tornado of thoughts presented one most colorfully and vividly – it thrashed and then stilled for inspection: I love my legs.
The tree above me swayed, and my legs reached up to embrace it: long, lean feet, thin ankles, narrow calves, perfectly functional kneecaps, and powerful thighs. Sun-deprived, cream-colored with constellations of freckles, they stretched out from me toward the tree – on and on until punctuated by happy little toes.
Are my legs special in their beauty? Would others consider them categorically, empirically beautiful? Well…probably not. And yet, that’s what makes them even more powerful and wonderful: they are mine and I find them beautiful. For sure, out there in the world, I admire other women’s legs above my own; there may even be days that I envy other women’s legs. But the major limitation of other women’s legs is that they are not mine.
These are mine.
And these have carried me across the world, on and off of planes, through over a dozen half-marathons, three marathons, two half-ironmen, over hundreds of miles of mountain hikes, and over the past three days, they have lifted countless boxes and paced this new house innumerable times placing things where they belong. These two legs have walked me into scary new places full of wonderful opportunities. They have known bitter cold and melting heat.
They have been injured…and they have healed. Over and over and over.
That lady’s legs – they sure are beautiful. I really do admire them.
But they are not mine.
I love my legs.
Because they are the only legs I have, they are the only legs I will ever have, and they do so much for me, I love my legs.
As if it ended there…
This overt admiration for my legs as they climbed up the platform swing ropes led to other thoughts about body positivity: should I be embarrassed or ashamed to think my legs are beautiful – to love them as much as I do? Absolutely not. That would be obtuse, right?
A few days ago, I conversed with some loved ones about our female bodies. During that chat, someone said something along the lines of how “gross” her…body…is since giving birth naturally, and how my sister is so lucky to have given birth via c-section. I have to be honest: I cannot remember her precise words, but that was the gist of it. This comment knocked me flat on my back for a moment. If this woman feels this way about her body after giving birth naturally, should I feel this way, too? Does my husband feel this way about my body? I was horrified!! How could I force my husband to deal with my “gross” body for all these years?
What upset me most in retrospect about that particular conversation was the subversive implication that if her body wasn’t acceptable (because of natural birth), mine couldn’t be either (also because of natural birth).
Buddhism and Taoism instruct about the interconnectivity of all things, and it seems that this is an excellent example. In being negative about herself, she is implicitly negative about me, too. Beyond that, she’s implying that same negativity toward any woman who has given birth naturally. That’s most women who have ever given birth! That’s like – shit I don’t know – like a huge chunk of the world’s population. By extension, is she not also implicating every man who has gotten a woman pregnant as guilty of making her body irreparably “gross”? And what about the children whose development and birthing required her body to make such sacrifices. Ok – that’s all of humanity! Literally, every living human soul is somehow touched by that particular comment of body negativity.
If I were to accept that negativity, then – think of it like getting paint on your hands – if she touches me with that paint, and then it’s on my hands, I could spread it to others. Before too long, that negativity has spread and spread and spread to hundreds of other women – who now believe that their beautiful bodies are somehow inadequate or ugly. Paint everywhere! Pain everywhere. Interconnectivity.
Further, if I were to absorb this negativity about my post-baby-making body and talk to my daughter that way, such beliefs could/would be carried down into her generation thus perpetuating negativity, toxicity, and yes, trauma. Because it is traumatic when you hear that no matter what, if you have a baby naturally, your body will be transformed into something ugly, gross, or unacceptable.
I refuse to perpetuate that idea! I refuse to knock my daughter out – laying her flat on her back – the way that I was after that conversation. And I will not shy from telling my daughter (and son) all of the beautiful magical things that a woman’s body can do – including but not limited to birth. I am not afraid to mention that the post-birth body is so beautiful – so beautiful – because of all that it represents.
But – also vibrational energy, right? Like, if you give out that low vibration to the universe, it will come back to you. If you hate on your body, it will respond – it will be unhealthy. That’s all karma is: the universe will match your energy via action/reaction and cause/consequence.
But I digress…
Because I love my legs.
Last night, a friend and I chatted about her c-section scar. She says that her first c-section scar didn’t seem this large; but then again, she was so young and such a busy new momma at the time that perhaps she simply didn’t give it much attention.
She shared with me a picture of her post-pregnancy body with the accompanying most recent c-section scar: and it’s gorgeous. The photo is gorgeous. She is gorgeous. Her post-baby belly, with its linea nigra still visible and its brand new life-giving scar – is gorgeous. But what’s most beautiful about it all is the vibrational energy she exudes in the photo: she is sexy and maternal and so, so powerful. Like Halsey the other day.
Even more formidable about this photograph is the societally revolutionary story it tells. Her pregnancy story. Her birth story. It’s not my story to tell, but it is a story that takes social norms, balls them up, and flings them at the garbage can in favor of real life and truth.
Yes, my friend should love her c-section scar.
And I love my legs and my post-baby-making body, too.
We should love these things not because they are typically beautiful or even because they are the opposite – ugly – but rather because of what they represent to us. We should love these things because of what they have done and can do for us: my legs carry me, Jill’s womb made life, this woman’s post-breastfeeding breasts gave milk and sustained life. These functions are glorious – and mystical and magical, and wonderful. We should love these things also because they are ours and, in this world, we each only get one body to love! We should love these things because if we put that vibrational energy into them, they will give that energy back – and then some.
They may not be perfect; they may not be tan or ideally shaped. They may be a bit “fluffy” – one of Gretchen’s perfect terms. They may have no thigh gap. They may even be a touch weak at the ankles and have a tendency toward tendinitis at the knee. But my goodness, I love my legs.
…and you know what? My husband loves them, too. And he loves my post-baby-making body – maybe in part because it has created two beautiful humans.
I reject body negativity.
What did I learn from loving my legs on that platform swing last night?
I learned that I love my body. Even the parts of it that aren’t oh-so-perfect I love because they are mine. And there is nothing better I can do for my body in this world than to love it. To give it the healing, nurturing vibrational energy it needs to be the best body it can be: strong, healthy, resilient, functional.
I love my mossy green eyes and my long, dense eyelashes. I love the nose I inherited from my Nana. I love my Nana’s dainty high arches and lean calves, too. I love my funny crooked teeth with their lifelong fluoride stains. I love my hair to bits – even though it can never seem to decide whether to be curly or straight. I love my hands and pleasantly shaped fingernails – and my skin! The parts that had too much sun as a child may be sun-damaged for life, but that’s OK. From here on out, I’ll take care of it all…and admire my constellations.
But what’s best about my body is all of the magical things it can do. I’ve already covered my legs, but what about my strong (weak) arms that take even the slightest strength training to heart – and grow! My fingers, that know their ways around a QWERTY keyboard so quickly that my brain barely has time to think them before the words exist. My eyes that can see so clearly even a bug screen on the window becomes an intolerable visual obstruction. My nose that can smell even the slightest alteration in my environment, alerting me (and my family) to existential dangers. My digestive system, so stalwart and forgiving, that does not protest no matter what I put in it. My womb. My womb that, without my conscious intent, created two human beings. It feels like I could go on forever…
Why would someone look at their body and think, “this is gross”? What could that possibly do for a person? Whom does it benefit?
No; we need to love our bodies. We have no choice. The alternative is illogical and incongruous with a meaningful existence.
So…I’m going to keep on loving my legs. And I’m going to tell my daughter about it. And no, I don’t think it’s vain.
If you need me later tonight, I’ll be out rocking on my swing. Loving my legs.