by Heather Reed
We both know our relationship has been bumpy, but it didn’t start out that way.
My elementary school colt legs propelled me across the playground when my classmates shouted, “Red Rover Red Rover send Heather right over!” You helped me fancy skip just like Dorothy, hopscotch summer days away, and propel my bike up any hill I decided to climb.
Even then, I must have sensed that our narrative would change. I remember watching my mom getting ready one morning when I was around seven or eight. Noticing the differences between my girl body and her woman body, I asked her why her thighs were so soft and squishy. Kids love to put moms in their place, I now know all too well. Thinking on her feet, she told me “So that when babies are born, there is a soft place for them to land!” Nice catch, Mom!
I was satisfied with that answer for a while; all newborns should get such a cozy welcome, right?
But then puberty came, and you started getting larger and softer. I didn’t recognize you, and wanted to hide you, but that wasn’t what everyone else was doing. Sporty, strong girls wore Umbros. The cool girls? Guess jean shorts. I wasn’t sporty, so jean shorts it was - but I felt uncomfortable. You made me feel awkward. You were squishier than my friends’ thighs. Ugh.
Grunge to the rescue. According to Wikipedia, Grunge style was “often worn in a loose, androgynous manner to de-emphasize the silhouette.” PERFECT! Covering my teen thighs that (GASP!) had cellulite on them under my oversized Levis was the perfect way to both manage the shame I felt about you and magically be in style.
Around age fourteen, I put you in hiding, where I was confident you belonged. Queue the nearly decade-long era where you rarely saw the light of day. I had a strict no shorts policy, even during hot, humid South Dakota summers. Pools and beaches were strategically avoided at all costs.
Even when my church youth group went on a mission trip to Mexico in July, I kept you covered. The no-shorts rule firmly in force. But I remember the anxiety I felt when our group took a day off and went to the beach. A swimsuit was in order; there was no way to avoid it. Even though I had strategically chosen a one-piece suit with full bottom coverage, you, my thighs, were still 100% exposed (in 1997 swim shorts for girls were not a thing). Instead of enjoying the ocean, I spent most of the day scanning my peers making sure no one was looking at you. I was careful not to move around too freely as to avoid any jiggling. It was hard not to focus on the girls with smaller, less dimpled thighs. Instead of a day at the beach, it was more of a day in my head.
In college, I let your calf friends out in some skirts and dresses, but you were too lumpy, squishy, and still not fit for public viewing. Thankfully, I chose a college in snowy Wisconsin so keeping you under wraps was rational.
Fast forward through three years of living in Japan (a land of many small-thighed people...sigh), meeting a lovely British guy, marrying him, moving back to the US, getting a masters degree. While we hadn’t made peace yet, my anxiety about your shape diminished. Too much life was happening for us to think about our relationship much.
You grew during pregnancy. How was that even possible? (Was it for the gentle landing my mom had spoken about so many years ago?)
With Owen, James, and Andrew, our relationship transformed from troubled to peaceful. Somehow these little humans made me realize that soft, juicy thighs were part of the package of joyful things my life now included. My kids and husband loved me just as I was, and I finally gave you the freedom you’d yearned for for too long. Shorts! Swimsuits! I wore these less restrictive items to participate in life with my active family. (Can you imagine if I would've kept you covered up in denim all the time?) While initially a little self-conscious, I also enjoyed the freedom we were both experiencing.
Just when I thought things couldn’t get better between us, running happened.
We started running over five years ago, and neither of us have ever looked back. Suddenly you were the strength that propelled me to my running goals. You had a purpose and with all of the miles we shared, our quads got muscly, and we both felt the assurance that accomplishment can bring. If you’d have told 14-year-old Heather that she’d choose a pair of 3” inseam running shorts at the age of 41, she would have fainted of embarrassment.
You now have important work to do! Squats, hill repeats, and long runs. Even a marathon!
You allow me to do all these things and you and I have never felt freer!
Sure, you’ve still got dimples. You’re still soft. But I finally and totally love you just the way you are. I couldn’t care less who sees you getting a runner’s tan in the summer! #coolrunner
Thanks for having the patience to know that I’d eventually see what freedom, strength, and confidence you would bring me.
I am so very thankful that we’ve arrived at this place together. Now, let’s go do 20 more squats.