My Thighs: A History


megan gahan -my thighs, a history-3

I remember the first time I became aware of my thighs. I was fourteen. It was summer and my legs were bare, baked dark brown from the Okanagan sun. I was wearing a bathing suit in brilliant shades of turquoise and emerald. I had spent the day on the water, slaloming behind a speedboat. When you slalom, the thrill is in carving as hard as you can to create the biggest spray of water in your wake. I always tried to look behind me to see the eruption I had caused; the sun made the droplets shine like thousands of rare jewels. It made me feel powerful. I mean, I had made the water do that.

Tired and achy from the day, I knelt on the coarse sand. My gaze rested on my legs and immediately became transfixed. Instead of being taken by how strong they were, I was horrified. I saw the expanse of my thighs spread wide over my calves. This couldn’t be right. They looked so large and oversized. I had to do something to fix them, and, obviously, completely give up kneeling.

Unsure of exactly how to shrink them, I began doing squats in my room at home—religiously. Up and down, contracting the muscles tightly, furiously willing my thighs to evaporate. Each morning, I would stare at them expectantly, wondering why they hadn’t transformed into any of the magic words I had been told to aspire to: thinner, smaller, petite.

After graduating, I found a job at a local gym. They asked if I would be willing to teach spinning classes, and I agreed. Ten minutes into the instructor training, I was dying, gasping for breath, praying my teacher wouldn’t notice me turning the resistance knob down when she had asked us to turn it up. But, over many, many weeks, my body adjusted. My lungs recalibrated. Eventually, I was able to teach an entire class. I was shocked my body could adapt, and I loved it. With Joan Jett pumping loudly on the speakers, I would shout instructions out to my class. We would sprint and climb hills and do push-ups on the handlebars for a whole hour. By the end, every part of me was drenched in sweat. But I was exhilarated. Once again, I felt powerful.

All that cycling changed my body even more. I recall shopping with my boyfriend a few months after I started teaching. Thanks to Britney Spears, schoolgirl skirts were all the rage. I excitedly grabbed a pink plaid one, and emerged from the fitting room. “Wow,” my boyfriend said. “Your legs. . . .they look amazing.” Turning towards the mirror, I took a deep breath and peeked down. My quadriceps, which I had been so proud of within the walls of the gym, suddenly seemed enormous. Their definition looked all wrong, harshly juxtaposed with the flouncy, feminine pleats. I didn’t look cute and petite, like I had hoped. My legs didn’t belong in a skirt like this. My face burned, and I rushed back to the change room, yanking the skirt off and throwing it in the corner.

Fifteen years later, my legs still look strong. I still don’t own a single skirt, pleated or otherwise. But reflecting on my complicated relationship with my thighs has illuminated something I never realized. Despite all the agony I suffered over them, I never stopped doing the things that made me feel strong or powerful, even though a different course of action would have potentially made them smaller. I didn’t stop water skiing at 14. I didn’t stop spinning at 22. I even kept up the darn squats. I could have given those things up in the name of society’s impossible ideal, and I was certainly fed hundreds of messages a day that reinforced that. But it wasn’t worth it to me then. And it’s not worth it to me now. Being strong is better, a million times over. So though I may pull a face when I’m trying on jeans cut a certain way, it’s not enough to make me give up that feeling. The pride I take in pulling two hundred pounds off the floor, or sprinting the last ten seconds of a run is worth far more to me than a thigh gap.

So I am trying to stop whining about my thighs. I’ve made this choice, consciously or unconsciously, my entire life. If I value strength, my legs are going to reflect it. I have solid German genetics to thank for that. I also need to curb the trash talk for another reason. I happen to have birthed two wonderfully solid boys, built like little bricks. Just like their dad. Just like their mom. I want them to grow up with a woman who is confident in her body and in her power. Of course, I want them to be proud of their thighs too. And unless pleated miniskirts become a trend for men, I think they’ll have an easier time with it than I did.