Today’s guest post features a healthy dose of radical self love and acceptance from Eileen of Leaner by the Lake. With swimsuit season just around the corner, I’m thrilled to share this article on embracing your body and kicking self-criticism to curb. I admire Eileen’s honesty and vulnerability: these qualities have made her blog one of my daily must-reads. Our hope is that this piece will resonate with you too–let us know what you think in the comments!
For longer than I care to remember, I have been monumentally affected by that loaded and cringe-worthy phrase that seems to habitually slink its way into circulation come the end of spring: swimsuit season.
I recall the outrage that ensued after my mother used a photo of my sister and I from a beach vacation for our family’s annual Christmas card. “I have thunder thighs!” I screamed at her, panic coursing through my veins as I calculated the odds that my crush’s family had received the card. I was terrified of the judgment others would pass on my imperfections.
I was eight years old.
Girls grow up far too quickly and unnecessarily. “Thunder thighs,” along with all those other nasty masochistic phrases that chip away at self-confidence don’t deserve a place in my vocabulary as a twenty-six year old. That they exist in the vocabulary and psyche of an eight-year-old girl is appalling, saddening, and disconcerting. Additionally, it puts a start date to body issues that lasted, and are a continual challenge, over a decade later. My heart goes out to little girls as they move into the impressionable period of adolescence. Today’s media and society impose a self-criticism that is unforgiving and biased – one built on comparison, competition, and effectively, devaluing of the sacredness of our bodies.
My eight-year-old self didn’t coin the term “thunder thighs,” and I certainly hadn’t always felt shame for my muscular legs. Those legs got me into the front line of tap class; they gave me the highest kicks and strongest jumps. They climbed jungle gyms, propelled swings to see over the treetops, and played victorious games of flashlight tag on summer nights. They were incredible! But slowly, through a process I must have been largely unaware of, those legs turned into something else for me. I internalized a shame for them. My eight-year-old self expressed this through “thunder thighs”. As a teenager and young adult I mourned that my short and strong legs would never be lean or tall, chic, with a space between them at the top. Men would never stare at them in wonder and refer to them as “stems”. While mourning this objectification is embarrassing to admit, it is honest, and I believe it is common.
It’s worth noting that this lapse in self-confidence in my eighth year was relatively new. Only a few summers earlier my parents threw me the ultimate summer birthday bash with multiple slides and kiddie pools set up in the backyard. The party was hoppin’ with Raffi tunes, water-guns, and every neighborhood kid on the block. Next to Disneyworld and winning the hula hoop contest at our school fair, it was the prime event of my young childhood. I continue to take this birthday party very seriously. The manic photo below, which I hope for my mother’s sake was taken after a short-lived sugar rush from cake and ice cream, proves a few things: I had incredible taste in early 90’s bikini fashions, my friends were adorable, and none of us appear to give a damn about swimsuit appearance.
So, what happened to that girl beaming in the front row – confident, carefree, blissfully happy? One for whom the summer meant popsicles, birthday parties, catching fireflies, and fireworks on the 4th of July.
At what point did summer get boiled down to swimsuit season? Bombarded with body-conscious slogans: “get fit for summer”, “look your beach best”, “six ways to get beach ready abs”. All of these an infinite number of ways to wish I was different, to wish I was better.
I can’t say when it arrived, but the dark cloud that has hovered over summer, heavy with shame is familiar. We have known each other well. At the end of spring, the anticipation of summer brings inevitable swimwear conversation. For years I endured an unparalleled shame that peaked in tandem with the summer heat. I fed it, empowered it, validated it. I obsessed over my cup-size and fleshy hips. I cursed my curves and short arms, and spent countless hours searching for a new suit, the entire time wishing that what I could drop in my virtual cart was a sleeker, more svelte figure.
And in the midst of all this wishing, I was missing the summer. I was missing popsicles, fireworks on the fourth, fireflies lighting up the streets and yards at night, the way the lake looks nearly tropical on a cloudless afternoon. I was missing the way the man who loves me looks at me with wonder and appreciation, enchanted by my curves and femininity.
One day last month I woke up and it was over. In the way that most relationships end, I had seen the end on the horizon for some time – the realization that I could free myself from this emotionally unhealthy routine. But on this morning, I gave voice to those thoughts as my feet hit the ground beside my bed, admitted to myself that this masochistic relationship with swimsuit season was over. Comparison and shame are the thieves of joy. My happiness deserves freedom from such frivolities.
How I look in a swimsuit is the most trivial and reductive way to define myself. Let the characteristics that define the woman I am be built on the foundation of my character. Faith. Loyalty. Respect. Devotion. Passion. Let those be the attributes I take stock of in bed at night. “Thunder thighs“, you are not worth my time.
Breaking up with swimsuit season took nearly two decades. Talk about a slow fade. But now that it’s over, I’m in an invincible love affair with summer. And coincidentally, cannot stop finding excuses to wear my bathing suit. To my polkadot one-piece with a vintage flair, you are the bees knees.
And to the eight-year-old girl in the Christmas card from 1994: your legs are strong. They are evidence of the woman you will become. They will carry you places you never imagined and show you a life rich with love and joy. They will empower you to explore the world and follow your passions, take you on long runs along the lakeside, and chilly winter walks in the park. They’ll jump and dance for hours with your best friends far into the early hours of the morning, and one day, take you straight into the arms of a man for whom you’d never expect to fall so hard. These legs, they give you life. For all of this they will ask nothing in return.
Love them, for they are a gift, a god-given blessing.
Interested in reading more thoughts on overcoming body image issues and fostering a positive self image? Find additional essays on my blog here:
- Far From the Cusp
- “The Pants” and Why This Isn’t A Post About Weight
- She Believed She Could So She Did
- In My Back Pocket
- The Start of an End
Eileen is a Product Manager at an Investment Research firm by day and resides in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood with her boyfriend and too many houseplants. In her free time she likes to write about mindful health, body image, style, home design, and clean eating. Her blog, Leaner By The Lake, documents the unpredictable yet exciting experiences of navigating adulthood and building a (sometimes) grown-up life.
Eileen believes in laughing often, celebrating life’s little moments, and living with carefree abandon – as often as possible.