I remember being very aware of the shape of my legs, even as a young girl. They were twice the thickness of my friends’.
As we climbed trees lining the school field, one-by-one hoisting ourselves into the leaves, their legs – impossibly spindly to my eye – would delicately propel them up like mosquitoes on water. Meanwhile my strong, sturdy legs would boost me from platform to platform like tightly wound springs.
I was one of the only girls of Polynesian descent at an affluent, predominantly white school. My father is half-Tokelauan. That sounds ridiculous now, especially that I live in New York where every train ride is an informal United Nations meeting and I am 100 per cent placed in the ‘white girl’ category, but I felt at the time I was a bit different from my schoolmates. I even recall being labeled the ‘token black girl’ of our friend group. Cringe.
But my legs were definitely always bigger than the rest as a kid. In those tree-climbing days, I used to go home and assess the dimensions of my thighs. Mine had just grown to adult-size earlier than everyone else, I told myself. As long as they didn’t get any bigger, I’d be just like everyone else as a grown-up.
Whoever taught me this skill of self-reassurance I owe deeply.
There were earlier anxieties, as well.
When I started growing inch-long dark hairs on my legs at primary school, my baggy denim ¾ shorts did nothing to hide it. ‘You’ve got hairy legs,’ Pirimi, the first of many to notice, teased. He wasn’t wrong.
I don’t know when I started telling people I’d inherited my dad’s legs. I guess when I decided they were so bad I had to make a comment on them.
I got a real shock in 2008 when a workmate, someone who you’d say back then had ‘legs for days’, told ME I had the ‘best legs’. Not sure she qualified it. In the office? I was confused. It was her who had the ‘best legs’. She was too kind to be making a mean joke, but I certainly considered it.
Legs are pretty weird. And there’s apparently so many things that can go wrong with them: kankles, hairy, too muscly, too short, fat knees, pale, blotchy, wobbly thighs, saddle-bags, varicose veins, cellulite. I can’t think of many chicks who would say they love their legs.
It wasn’t until a decade later that I came to appreciate what I have. Not that I would say I have great legs, but there are so many versions of attractive. So many more versions of attractive when you move to a city with diversity.
And do you remember how people used to say, ‘Does my butt look big in this?’ Body image has changed so much since then that now, if your butt didn’t look big in something, you’d be squatting, stuffing and shape-wearing to make sure it did.
Now my short legs and chubby knees are fine. Assessing my ‘Instagram engagement’ recently a friend commented ‘your leg pics are popular’. Walking down the street the other day a wolf-whistler yelled ‘I like your legs!’. Lol. And I learned that not everyone can drop down on the dance floor and bounce up and down without falling over – a true skill.
So I can only look back at all of that insecurity in my younger years and see a shitload of wasted time. What I thought was my worst physical quality I’d now count as one of my better ones.
Society’s perception of beauty is fucked and mutable, enjoy what you have or you might look back and see you wasted a stupid amount of time worrying about something you shouldn’t have.