JUST TELL ME I HAVE NICE LEGS, MOM! Do We Inherit Our Mother's Body Hang-ups?

As long as I can remember, "leg stuff" as been a topic of conversation and controversy with my mom and me.
Publish date:
May 15, 2013
moms, body, family drama, body issues, legs

The in-thing in elementary school was soccer.

Every recess, the 4th and 5th graders would pour out to the public park that served as our alternative hippie-school playground, and we would play brutal, full contact soccer. Elbows were scraped, bruises were accrued and dog poop was slipped in.

It was so awesome.

I'm not going to lie, I was really good. I was this immature, chatty, slightly smelly girl in the classroom, but on the field I was a killer. Something about running around and kicking stuff was exhilarating to me. The girls who actually played on local soccer teams told me I should join.

Oh! How I wanted to. Not only did it give me confidence, but it was my ticket to hippie elementary school popularity. I BEGGED my mom to let me join a team. Her answer for over a year was a resounding, "NO."

Now, some people have asked me if it was because of the rough nature of the sport, the fact that her baby might get fractured. Or maybe it was that it might cost more time and money? Two things my family ran a little short on.

No, it was with the legs. Whenever I asked to join Ann or Kendra or Gwen's soccer team, my mom would firmly and resolutely respond, "You are not playing soccer, you'll get big legs."

At first I whined and complained and fought back. "I don't CARE about my legs! I want to play soccer!" But she always said, "You'll thank me when you're older. You have such nice legs now, you don't want to ruin them."

Eventually, I gave up and believed the notion that I was saving myself from a lifetime of enormous, Troma-style legs.

Thinking about this now, I realize it's a little bizarre to tell a 10 year old that she has "nice legs," but coming from my mom, I swear it didn't sound creepy.

You see, as long as I can remember, "leg stuff" as been a topic of conversation and controversy with my mom and me.

Aside from the fact that I am a Sasquatch from the knee down and my mom's leg skin is like the skin of a baby's bottom, we are both what my mom would call tragically "pear shaped." Therefore our legs tend to put on bulk easily -- be it muscle or fat -- and will never be the lithe, lean limbs of the ballerina my mother named me after.

My mom was, and is beautiful. She was a model at one point, and regardless of all the positive attention her looks have brought her, she has always been wary of her legs. "Big legs," "bandy legs," "thunder thighs," varicose veins, lots of scars, and "too hairy" have always been how we talk about legs.

It's funny how talking so casually and so often about what's perceived to be wrong with a part of your body can become normal, even comforting. The first time I wore a mini skirt somebody actually had the audacity to compliment me on the way I looked. Instead of saying "thank you" like the approval-starved graduate student I was, my response was, "You're drunk, ya asshole."

If daughters inherit their mother's body hang-ups, I most certainly did.

Our mothers are our most formative role models, so their attitudes have a significant influence on us. It's a basic human desire to be what our parents want us to be.

And up until a few years ago, all I wanted was my mom to say I had "nice legs."

When I used to go up and down the roller coaster of self-loathing and depression, I could almost chart my mental health by the length of skirt or shorts I would wear when my mom came to visit.

Was I desperately hoping for confirmation that I was still pretty? I'd wear the shortest shorts I could muster without having to wax my bikini line. Heels, too, if I'd had a particularly harrowing week.

I would imagine my mom smiling broadly and saying, like she did that one time when my daily diet consisted of coffee and Lexapro, "You know, you have such nice legs!"

It was like I was trying to date my Mom. Gaaaaaaaah.

Even though I think I'm mostly over it, and I basically wear whatever I want, I still catch myself thinking, "What would mom think?" when I try on a short skirt or dress. Nine out of ten times, I have to quiet the voice in my head that tells me in a Hong Kong Chinese accent, "Mmm, longer is more flattering on our body type. Oh, darling, you have legs like me."

And a little part of me really wants to cry over those words. "Yes I have legs like you! Isn't that amazing? We actually kind of WALK the same way!" And though the sentiment is never lost to her, the thought that our bodies could be "better" is always nearby.

Try as I might to instill the idea in her that BOTH our bodies, head to toe, LEGS AND ALL are beautiful because they give us the privilege of moving through life, still eludes her. I wonder if it's generational or it's something that's so deeply ingrained in her that letting it go would be losing a piece of herself.

I don't blame my mom for my body hang-ups. I did that all by myself. What I do acknowledge is the influence negative talk about your body can have on the people around you, especially the people who love you the most.

I WANTED to share in my mom's leg issues, it gave us something to bond over.

I'm headed to Dallas in a couple days to see my mom and dad. I know thoughts of "What will she say about my body?" will always be floating around somewhere in my associations with my mom. But these days I'm able these day to push that noise aside and be happy in the fact that our legs, nice and big and strong, have allowed us to travel this far.