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January 23, 2012

Looking at My Legs

Looking at My Legs

My very earliest internal conversations about taking up running started with a critical assessment of my legs. Specifically an assessment of my thighs.

I come from a long line of short (I am 5 feet tall), curvy (trust me) women. Growing up in coastal Southern California, where the ideal of beauty is 5 foot 7 and blonde with long lean legs, I always felt a bit cheated. Even as a kid I was pretty sure my lifetime would not see the rise of medical treatment to make me look like that.

Generally, I have never been over-critical of the way I look – but it has always seemed to me that regardless of my weight or fitness level my legs stubbornly stay attached to an extra layer of fat that I just cannot seem to rid myself of. I have spent countless hours over the years looking in the mirror and thinking “If only…”

To get an idea of how much I really dislike my thighs, I live in Southern California and I have not worn a pair of shorts outside of my house in recent memory. At least not if I thought anyone would see me.

Several months before my last birthday I was having one of these contemplative  moments in the mirror and I started bargaining with myself. I am bargaining about liposuction. The conversation sounds like this:

Self 1: You know we could just get liposuction – you are an adult. You are a single woman, You are your own boss…go for it!

Self 2: Yeah, we could…but have we really, really tried everything?

Self 1: Yes.

Self 2: I mean – you could stand to lose a little weight…and you really are not exercising regularly…and even when you are, well, what is yoga really doing for your thighs?

Self 1: Ok! I get it…so what would constitute “reasonable effort”?

Self 2: How about running?

The inner battle that raged after that went on for quite sometime and involved negotiations over time commitment, cost analysis (what is the cost, for example, for liposuction versus a treadmill…), and more. Where I settled is now a matter of historical record.

I am running.

And I am stumbling upon all kinds of learning and surprises.

Today I was looking in the mirror at my legs and – for the first time ever – I was a bit sorry I didn’t take a picture of them before I started. I am never going to have beautiful legs. They are short, they always seem to have a bruise or two (the hazards of traveling and parenting mostly) and they carry a few other scars of age and time. But I was looking at them and I thought – ok, ok this is definitely an improvement.  And I could start to envision perhaps even wearing a pair of running shorts, or a mid-thigh dress without opaque tights.

We all have issues about our bodies don’t we? Most of us can name both our favorite and least favorite feature, we may dress each day to hide one thing and enhance another – and if you aren’t already doing this there are countless TV shows, magazines and websites that will help you along. We are surrounded daily by other people’s ideas of beauty- so we also have that to match up to our own ideals, insecurities and hang-ups.

The societal and cultural issues around body type, beauty, acceptance and bias are beyond the scope of what I intend to address in this blog. My question is more about what I or anyone does to come to terms with and either accept or decide to change what what they have. I am personally working a bit on both. I have a set of things I can’t change…I am not going to wake up tomorrow morning and look like blonde supermodel…but I think I can work with what I have to make my body reach more of its own potential. As I see this happening, it does give me more confidence and it encourages me to continue down the path I am on despite the challenges.

And liposuction? Well…here’s the bargain. I have given myself to age 45. I figure if I get to age 45 and I still feel like I would be happier with my legs if I let a talented surgeon sculpt them for me a bit, then I just might do it. But between now and then I intend to work with what I’ve got and see what I can gain on my own.

Right now, despite the rain today, I am considering shorts.

Jacqueline

8 Comments

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  1. Lena
    January 24, 2012 at 5:06 pm #

    You know, I’m mostly okay with the shape of my thighs, but I haven’t worn a pair of shorts in public for years either because of all that veiny stuff going on behind my knees. It’s always something, isn’t it?

    Not only did you make the healthier choice for your body overall by taking up running, it looks like you also saved yourself a world of frustration with liposuction after effects:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/01/weekinreview/01kolata.html?_r=1&ref=health

    “The result, published in the latest issue of Obesity, was that fat came back after it was suctioned out. It took a year, but it all returned. But it did not reappear in the women’s thighs. Instead, Dr. Eckel said, “it was redistributed upstairs,” mostly in the upper abdomen, but also around the shoulders and triceps of the arms.”

    • Jacqueline Jacques
      January 24, 2012 at 9:17 pm #

      I have not totally ruled out the liposuction to be clear 🙂

      That said, this effect of fat redistribution is real. I have seen it. More than the cosmetic issue, fat may redevelop as visceral fat which is more metabolically harmful.

      I am almost ready to try running in your shoes (that sounds funny, doesn’t it) BTW. Next trip to Boulder perhaps…

  2. Amanda
    January 25, 2012 at 7:35 pm #

    Hi there, my two cents – I am not sure its 100% realistic that running alone will get your thighs where you want them to be. I think if I am reading your situation, you have probably x amount of time to devote to exercise per day and right now you are spending it on running. I think what will happen is you will see benefit up to a point where your results start to diminish. Don’t be frustrated and think you took yourself as far as you can go. This is when you’ll want to increase intensity. If you don’t want to change what you are doing, work to increase speed and consider adding in some sprints. Personally, I lift weights at home. Its easy to increase intensity by doing harder exercises, adding weight , or increasing speed. I have a 6mo baby and its next to impossible to exercise except at home, so I feel your pain. Anyways, I just wanted to chime in because I have been working out for a while now and I have always had to change up what I do to keep seeing results. And you couldn’t pay me to go out wearing shorts where you live. (And I am in pretty good shape.) No thanks!

    • Jacqueline Jacques
      January 25, 2012 at 8:05 pm #

      Hi Amanda – thanks for the great advice. I have not given any thought to what I might do when/if I get to a point of diminishing returns- so these are great things to think about. I have had so many emails from women who don’t wear shorts in public! I had no idea there were so many of us – it’s sort of comforting in a weird way.

  3. Gillian
    January 31, 2012 at 4:13 pm #

    This is a very interesting post, but my first thought was related to activity I enjoy vs can do. Great approach!
    The shorts question is funny too. It’s not my legs, but the fact that if I’m in an air-conditioned place, I get cold, enough that I’m thankful to get out into the heat to relax and warm up.

    • Jacqueline Jacques
      January 31, 2012 at 5:43 pm #

      I am with you on that too, Gillian. I get cold even here in Southern California – and I always err towards warmer. Can’t imagine I’d ever run outside if I lived in a cold part of the world…but I suppose never say never, right?

  4. cal
    July 22, 2013 at 3:28 am #

    grats to you for taking that first step Deborah.

  5. Jacqueline Jacques
    July 22, 2013 at 3:49 am #

    Hi Deborah…It is truly a funny and small world.

    I am going to give you a few words of advice from things that I learned. First – you should know that I was several months in when I actually got the blog up and running (ha). So I was running (or jogging) a mile by then, but that’s not where I started. I started by mapping a 1 mile course from my house and then just getting through it however I could. When I could get through it without walking (much) I went for 1.5. I have really never done much past the 5k limit. I have one regular run I do that’s about 4 and a half miles, and I run it slow, and that’s fine by me.
    So here’s my 2 cents:
    1) Get good shoes. Who doesn’t need a reason to show shop, right? Go to a real running store like RoadRunner and have them fit you (but don’t invest in the crazy expensive inserts) – and take their suggestion. Don’t just buy what’s cute or in style. Wrong sport for that 🙂
    2) I’d really suggest that when you start you run a bit by yourself. Then you will learn what you are comfortable with, what your natural pace is, etc – and you won’t feel compelled to keep up, or otherwise match another runner. Not everyone agrees with this by the way.
    3) Don’t worry about being good, doing it right, or looking silly. We all ran as kids and never thought twice. And look around – all runners look a little silly. It’s just the way it is.
    4) Commit to a length of “trial” – I did a year for reasons you can read about in my early posts. That’s a long time for a lot of people. But, seriously – don’t do less than 3 months. I actually don’t run daily (though I have at times) – but do run at least 3-4 times a week if you are going to go for it. You might as well get the benefit if you make the effort, right?

    Finally – being a mom with two kids is a busy full-time job! I’m telling you before I had kids, I used to tell moms “just make time” – but truly, it’s just not all that easy some days. So cut yourself enough slack that you are giving yourself appropriate credit. But not too much or it works against you 🙂

    Have fun, be safe, and let me know how it goes.

    Jacqueline