TGIF: The Yellow T-Shirt that Taught Me to Love my Thunder Thighs

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On Running, High School Horror Stories and Being “The Funny One.”


They called me “Thunder Thighs” and said I ran like a duck.

“They” were my teachers, family and friends.

The “Funny One”

Remember, October 1998?

Britney Spears’ iconic music video as a midriff-baring Catholic high school student with knee-high socks had taken the world by storm.

In a high school far-far away on the opposite side of the world (Dubai), I, too, was sporting knee-high socks. Sans: Posse of gyrating, synchronized dancers in dangerously short skirts marching through the hallway.

No, Sir. I was participating in a public speaking competition with some of the best speakers from my grade. Each girl had to memorize and deliver a five-minute speech without flashcards. The competition was tight.

One of the girls was doing an excerpt from Gandhi’s famous speeches and another something equally noble, like a brief history on Mother Theresa’s life.

I, on the other hand, had chosen to write my own piece that year. A candid story about tearing my ligament with amusing, glorious, self-deprecating detail. It was terribly risky pitting my “Dear Diary” teen drivel against the words of political enigma Gandhi. Who does that? Still, I hoped the panel of judges would consider me a worthy contender on the basis of authenticity.

When I finished my piece, I knew I’d nailed it. There’s nothing sweeter and more reassuring than a crowd erupting into laughter after you deliver the punchline of a joke. I could feel it in my bones. I was going to win.

Minutes later it was official. I’d won first place and the auditorium burst into applause. My friends stood up from their chairs clapping, whistling and cheering wildly. It was one of those perfect life moments where everything goes into slow-motion.

My classmates and juniors surrounded me for congratulatory high-fives and hugs. From the corner of my eye, I noticed one of my girlfriends was trying to make her way through the swarm of students. I navigated my way towards her with a big goofy smile.

She clutched her stomach, keeled over laughing and said: “You know how you look big in real life? Man! You look even BIGGER on stage!” [spreads arms wide open]

<insert glass shattering>

My face fell flat like a big ol’ scoop of Rocky Road ice cream onto the hot summer sidewalk. Splat! I made a feeble attempt at laughing along with her as I awkwardly tucked a chunk of my unstyled, frizzy hair behind my ears.

Once the initial shock wore off, for reasons beyond me, I started laughing hysterically. The universe had seen my gleeful state and immediately diffused it with a mean-spirited Booyah! I guess … it was funny. If you find making babies cry and kicking puppies funny …

“You look big in real life….
[echo: big in real life … big in real life … big in real life]
But you look even BIGGER on stage.”
[echo: BIGGER on stage…BIGGER on stage…BIGGER on stage…]

Later that night, I remember cupping my round face in my palms as I soaped myself in the shower. She’s right. I don’t have any cheekbones. Then as I proceeded to soap my curvy hips and thick thighs I thought, “Yikes. My thighs are HUGE. Especially from this angle.”

When I stepped out of the shower I looked at myself in the foggy mirror. I sucked in my cheeks and pinched the back of my non-existent triceps to see what I would look if I were skinny.

With concave cheeks and makeshift plastic surgery on my arm fat, I looked in the mirror and said the first line of my winning speech.

Wow …

I look like an idiot. Not hot.

I’ll just have to be the “funny one.”

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“To succeed in life, you need three things:  a wishbone, a backbone and a funnybone.”  – Reba McEntire
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Thirteen Years Later

My eyes flutter open to the familiar refrain of the Marimba ringtone on my iPhone. Clumsy fingers hastily enter the wrong passcode in an effort to silence the wailing alarm clock upsetting the delicate hush of a Saturday morning. I pry loose the arm pinned under my soft supple stomach and push the hair away from my face.

“Some day a man will push the hair out of my face,“ I think to myself. Tickled by this surprising romantic sentiment, (eyes still closed) my face breaks into a smile. Oh …silly Tina! The newly rescued arm reaches up for the cool-tiled window ledge with the grace of an elephant trunk trying to grasp a tiny teacup in the dark. The hand knocks over some books, a water bottle and a hair clip before retrieving my glasses.

Freshly bespectacled and with no hair marring my vision, I glance up at the ceiling. Irridescent pearly pink light. Mmmm. I smile again. I arch my back, elongate my arms and legs and go into a long delicious stretch that lasts a minute.

“It’s a beautiful day for a run!” I announce as I leap out of bed.

The Yellow T-shirt

For most of my high school years, I wore clothes three times my actual size. An open-heart surgery of my wardrobe would have revealed five oversized men’s plaid shirts and four pairs of knee-length shorts in an assortment of colours: black, navy, beige and denim. I wore knock-off Dr. Martens and the whole ensemble screamed, Overweight Kurt Cobain-wannabe. 

Somewhere along the way I bloomed in a woman, but in the back corners of my mind I’m still that girl who thinks she is “even BIGGER on stage.” So I shirk away from displaying the curves of my body. I don’t wear anything sleeveless or short. I can’t even wear cap-sleeves without my skin crawling.

This can prove to be quite the predicament when you are training for a half-marathon in the summer.

For the most part my running gear reflects my 12th grade wardrobe: giant tent-sized shirts with running capris.

But not this Saturday morning. I was feeling good about myself. I was happy. I looked down at my thighs and thought, “Six kilometers and counting, Baby! Let’s show ‘em what we’re made of, Thunder Thighs.”

I slipped into a fitted yellow T-shirt and smiled at the reflection in the mirror.

[deep breath +  slow exhale]

Baby steps.
______________________________________________________

“Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt
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Love these girls singing a cover of Pink’s song. **clean version**

“Pretty, pretty please
Don’t you ever, ever feel
Like you’re less than perfect.”
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So … my global SheLoves sisters:
– How have your insecurities stopped you from fulfilling your destiny?

Dear SheLoves Half-Marathon Bravehearts,
– What preconceived notions have stopped you from running in the past?
– How has running affected your self-image? How do you feel now?

Positive or negative, I want to hear your thoughts! Share-share, please. :)

Love you more than Upside-down Banana Toffee Cake, (<- Recipe)
xoxo,
Teen

To read more TGIFs from Tina: Click here.

(Image: Superhero from Pinterest)

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SheLoves Half-Marathon for Living Hope
– How it all got started? To read the story: CLICK HERE
– Donate: CLICK HERE
– Facebook Event Page: CLICK HERE

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Tina Francis
My name is Tina. Loved ones call me: Teen. Words are my chocolate. Music, my caramel. Photography, my bread. Girlfriends, my butter. Confession: Some girls dream about Manolo Blahniks or their next Hermes bag. Not me. I dream of freshly baked bread, perfectly barbecued meat & steaming bowls of Pho. My dream lover *cue Mariah Carey song* is someone who would read out a menu to me in Barry White’s baritone voice. I celebrate food, ask for help, interrupt conversations, laugh and cry hard, acknowledge the elephant in most rooms, fight for the underdog and believe in the power of storytelling. I was born and raised in Dubai and currently live in the beautiful city of Vancouver, known for some of the best sushi in the world.
Tina Francis
Tina Francis

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Tina Francis
  • Daniela

    I thought about calling you this week and saying sorry for the “no more wearing your dads tshirts” comment on Saturday but I’m glad I didn’t. Your “friend” that made that comment obviously had her own issues. Your beautiful tina. I love that you are embracing your gorgeous curves. I think we should go shopping for short shorts and arm warmers for race day. ;)

    As for me…..I’m feeling pretty good. Not bikini good, but I did take kids to the pool in a tankini and shorts…..

    • http://www.tinafrancisphotography.com/ Tina

      Woah! Tankini and shorts… that’s a BIG DEAL in my books. You got further than i did!

      I will have to work my way up to the short-shorts. Maybe I’ll focus on getting to mid-thigh at sometime this decade.

      And what on earth are arm warmers for? haha. Is it a fashion statement or does it actually serve a purpose. I’ve been curious about them…

      Looking forward to our run tomorrow! xoxo

      • Daniela

        It’s fashion I think, but if you start early and it chilly, would you rather have to tAke off and carry a sweater or peel off a cute pair of arm warmers? Maybe some red and white she loves ones????

  • http://www.littledouce.blogspot.com Brandi-Lee

    Before the half marathon training, running was my ARCH NEMESIS. I hated it in school. Why? Because I was always the dead last. Dead last with my lungs almost heaving out of my mouth I was breathing so hard. It was embarrassing. And in highschool, if something embarrasses you, it IS the end of the world. Now, I feel liberated. It’s still a work in progress, and I sometimes find myself comparing my progress to others on this journey. But, I am doing my ‘personal best’, and I keep reminding myself of that.

    How has my self imaged changed? Well for starters, I can run in front of others with out wanting to barf and run the other way. I am confident to go at my own pace and be okay with it. For instance, I went to go on the treadmill a couple weeks ago. I walked in the room and there were several people on machines, all sweaty athletes, and my highschool self would have turned around and abandoned the work out. But I just plugged in my iPod, and began my jog. It was huge for me!

    • http://www.tinafrancisphotography.com/ Tina

      I SO SO connect with your high school story, except I was one-step worse than you the classes made me so nervous that I actually skipped gym all together. Almost didn’t pass 11 grade because my P.E. teacher noticed I had skipped out for the whole academic year. I only got away with it because I said I was busy with student council stuff, which was the truth. So it wasnt like I was skipping out to see a movie.

      I’m still so impressed that you are gutsy enough to work around men! I never been able to workout in co-ed situations most because I went to an all girls high school but I hacked athletic aptitude.

      I love that you have managed to find your rhythm in the training. I can’t imagine doing this without you! You’ve been a huge blessing to me in so many ways B.Diddy.

      Love ya,
      Teen

  • Heidi

    Hiya Tina,

    I didn’t realize until a few years ago how the things we said as kids affected others (and vice versa). Snide remarks and references to weight and colour never helped. I say colour because, I always got teased for how brown (tanned) I was, and boy, did I feel terrible.

    Deep down, I always envied the skinny girls, the girly girls, the girls who were soft spoken and dainty!

    Now at 27 I love myself (at least I try to) , I love myself- my colour and my curves. I’m goofy, silly, laugh and talk loudly. I don’t always say the right things, and now I can say without hesitation -if boys don’t like or appreciate me for who I am … then heck! They don’t deserve me (regardless of how cute they are), MORE importantly, I deserve better!

    Side note: You inspired everyone in school and maybe unknowingly intimidated everyone as well (including Me).. You were (and still are) A Star! From acting (King and I) to singing, to being wonderful to everyone and a House captain (Mars House captain).

    P.S. Being super skinny is overrated. Real women (like you and me) have real curves. Embrace it. And try and forget the comment by the girl after your glorious winning moment!

    You are beautiful Missy, Inside and Out!

    Hugs all the way from Manchester,
    Heidi

    • http://www.tinafrancisphotography.com/ Tina

      Hi Heidi,

      I am so glad you’ve found you groove, sweet thang! Who needs boys that don’t appreciate you for who you are! Trust me I’ve been there, done that, SO not worth it!

      The most hilarious part of this comment is that you were one of the skinny, athletes I admired in school. Just goes to show you everyone is thinking that the grass is greener on the other side.

      Love you voice here on SheLoves.

      xoxo,
      Teen

  • Soumya

    Tina,

    Whoever said that was just mean, I guess…and little jealous maybe? :) I’ve known you since kindergarten and always thought you were beautiful. You had one of the sweetest smiles ever. :) And look at you now! So inspiring , so beautiful and you write so well… You have the gift of making people feel warm and loved … and I guess that’s what people love about you….

    You are and will always be special…whether you’re a size 0 or 10….

    • http://www.tinafrancisphotography.com/ Tina

      Kindest words ever spoken: “You have the gift of making people feel warm and loved … and I guess that’s what people love about you….”

      That killed me…!!! In a good way. In the best way!

      Thank you so much for your encouragement and for sharing your voice Soumya. I’ve loved reconnecting with you after all these years. Kindergarten was a REALLY long time ago. I love social media because it’s made the world so much smaller!

      *sigh* You made me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

      xoxo,
      Teen

  • Shereen d’souza

    Teen, You look great, always have. I can’t imagine why that comment came your way but school is not a great memory nor was my wardrobe or sense of style back then. So good to see you sporting the yellow and enjoying the run. I am running too and my thighs thunder away in pain but prouder with each jojg My 14 k walk is fast approaching and your she loves inciting incident has proved to be a source of much needed inspiration. Sending you a Big curvy hug from down under

    • http://www.tinafrancisphotography.com/ Tina

      Aww….Big curvy hugs are the BEST!

      The nineties were not kind to me in the wardrobe department but I remember being ridiculously happy! The yellow shirt was just an outward manifestation of the inner transformation that is occurring as a result of training for this marathon. I am learning that there are bigger (pardon the pun) issues in the world than my big thighs. haha.

      Thrilled that you are running too!!! This makes me feel connected to you (again) from a distance. Running has so many great metaphors for life, hey?

      I am cheering you on for you 14k run all the way from Vancouver!

      What would this year have looked like without Don. M’s book right?!!!

      Love you sweetheart,
      Teen

  • http://www.sherrinefrancis.com sherrine francis

    I’m cuddled up in a hotel room and reading this blog made me mad and very happy. I wanna punch you know who in the face. Arrggghhh. Mean!! But so happy that you gave that yellow shirt a chance. Remember I looked at you last Saturday and said..you look good! Good for you. Those are big steps. I know how scary it is..to change the way we dress our bodies.

    It’s Saturday here and it’s pouring. I am not running. Jetlagged and stuffed from a really yummmy breakfast.

    I should maybe go atleast get a walk in with G. I hope that I will slowly ease into it. Maybe I should lay off myself and trust that everything will work out in due time?

    Miss you bunnycake. xoxo.

    ps…beautifully written piece! If i was in town..I would send it to a women’s magazine. It’s gold.

    • http://www.tinafrancisphotography.com/ Tina

      haha. You DID say that the yellow shirt looks good. Actually you said “Have you lost weight?” Hello that’s the magic phrase that makes every girl go dizzy with happiness!

      Still can’t believe that you are in Europe eating Rocky Road chocolate Cake for breakfast while I putter around here!

      Loving your frequent blog posts makes me feel connected to you.

      Love you goober-head,
      xoxo,
      Bunnycake

  • Sharanya

    Hi Tina,

    Found this well written piece thanks to facebook link sharing. I still remember your very entertaining self-written piece at the elocution at school. Not sure if I congratulated you in person, then :) You always had a smiling face and such a wonderful singing voice! Only time I would have used the adjective BIG for you would have been to describe your smile. I think we all have our share of awkward school memories. Personally, I wish I hadn’t looked so dorky all the time.

    Good luck with the half marathon!

    • http://www.tinafrancisphotography.com/ Tina

      Sharanya!!

      What a lovely surprise finding you on facebook! Gosh. It’s been years. Can’t believe you still remember the Elocution. It’s funny … the things that our brain can recollect.

      You made me smile with this: “Only time I would have used the adjective BIG for you would have been to describe your smile.”

      Seriously, I have THE best friends in the world! You are right we ALL had our awkward teen moments but that’s what shapes and builds our character.

      I loved getting a peek into your life on Facebook!

      Thanks for feeling the urge to reassure me after all these years. I hope I see more of you on here!!

      Love,
      Teen

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