This pic is from my Great CrossFit Experiment a few years ago and… I almost didn’t post it at the time because I was embarrassed by my “big quads”. Now I’m just embarrassed that there’s no weight on the bar and my wrists are so bent! (In my defense, we were using un-weighted bars to practice good form first – practice I clearly needed.)
I did something really daring the other day: I went to the gym in some really crazy workout pants. Oh, wait, I do that all the time. No the daring part was that these particular Nike leggings, while super cute, are also ridiculously unflattering. They were a gift and I love the gift-giver so I have kept them but they are a swirly dark pattern with two patches of bright white over each thigh. They’re basically a neon arrow pointing straight to my much-obsessed-over and daily-derided trouble spot, the one I’m most intent on camouflaging. It’s not my friend’s fault – she has long, thin Gisele-esque legs that would look good in pants literally made up of neon arrows but she and I, well, we both may put our pants on one leg at a time but our legs sure don’t look the same in said pants! So why on earth would I wear something so unflattering out in public?
A thought: What if “flattering” doesn’t necessarily mean “thin”?
Another thought: What if wearing “flattering” clothing meant wearing items that showcased our strengths rather than hiding our “flaws”?
A life-changing thought: What if I acted like I loved my thighs? Like, was really, truly, deeply proud of them? What would that look like exactly? And would it change how I really felt about them?
Like many things, my thoughts started with someone else’s thoughts. I was reading a post by a blogger* who took exception to the idea that “flattering” = “makes you look skinny”. As an advocate of the fat acceptance movement she gets irritated that so many plus-size clothing options offer slimming panels or illusion color blocking or three quarter sleeves, among other skinny-fying tools and automatically assume that she wants to hide her tummy and arms. Which, it turns out, she doesn’t. Not at all.
I’m going to be honest. Up until the second I read her blog entry it never once occurred to me that flattering could mean anything other than “makes you look thinner”. To me the two phrases are interchangeable. Sure, sometimes I meant “flattering” as “You look gorgeous overall” but implied in there was that part of the gorgeousness included looking more svelte than one’s usual. But the more I thought about it, the more I think she has a point. Flattering should mean “anything that makes you look beautiful” and beauty is a concept much larger than a simple construct like body size.
I’ve whined a lot on here about my legs. And the truth is that every time I do, I have a little twinge. At first I thought I was twinging (that’s a thing, right?) because I’m supposed to be above all that body snarking nonsense and I was letting you guys down by indulging in it. And while that is true, I realized that I’m really twinging because – you ready for this? – I don’t actually want to hate my thighs. They may not be the perfect socially sanctioned shape and size but they’ve done all right by me. Better than all right. My legs are crazy strong. And I’ve worked hard to make them that way. They’ve carried me up mountains and downtown. They’ve helped me hoist everything from 200-pound desks (side note: I’m giving away a really big desk. Anyone want it??) to sleeping toddlers. They’ve ran me through long races and propelled me off vaults and helped me birth babies and walked me down the aisle and danced me until dawn. I can walk miles and miles and miles without tiring. We’ve had a lot of good times together my legs and I! I have every reason to love my strong quads. So what’s stopping me? Why is it that my first concern in buying any kind of pants is if they “flatter” my legs (i.e. make them look skinny)? Why can’t I just be proud of them?
So I put on the neon-arrow-to-my-upper-thigh-fat pants. And then I resisted the urge to cover them with a skirt or tunic top and just added one of my regular workout t-shirts. I’ll admit I was nervous going in the gym. (And this from a girl who has worn a full Katy Perry get-up to workout in!) But at the check-in desk, the girl’s eyes widened as she squealed, “Oooh I love those tights!!! And you are working them!” I don’t think this particular girl has ever said more than hi to me in her entire tenure there.
During class I couldn’t stop looking at my legs in the mirror. At first I was horrified: they were huge! From every angle! Even my butt, which I’ve been working really hard to build since I’ve never had much of one, suddenly looked like it had grown three sizes. My thighs, always best friends, never leave each other’s side and now I could see just how much they touched. There was no “flattering” light or stripes or color or even a long sweatshirt to hide me.
But as the class went on, I found my perception changing. My legs were strong! From every angle! It was kind of liberating actually. Knowing the pants already magnified everything, I didn’t worry about tugging them up or standing with my legs crossed or whatever silliness I’ve done in the past to “hide” the things attached to my lower body that everyone can totally see anyhow (or else they’re totally cool with me being a floating torso). It got even better when I hit the weight floor. In the past I’ve gotten some looks there. And I can hardly blame them for thinking I’m not serious. Take, for instance, the day I lifted in a huge fluffy pink ballerina tutu and zebra top? (It was hard holding the dumbbells out far enough from my body to not squish my tutu!) But this day I felt like a real lifter. I felt like I looked like a lady who lifted strong things and was proud of it. And this confidence helped me work even harder.
I was deep into a squat (also known as the least “flattering” position ever) when another friend walked by and chuckled. “I never have a hard time finding you in the gym! Those are some pants.”
On my way out, an elderly woman laughed, “I wish I could pull off pants like that! You look great, honey.”
Then when I got home I got a text from a friend saying, “You rock printed leggings!”
Honestly four compliments in one day! For wearing an item of clothing that highlighted (both literally and figuratively) the biggest and fattest (using that term clinically, not derogatorily) part of my body. Whoa.
I’m still trying to process what this means for me. Every woman who’s ever stepped out of a dressing room to rotate like a turkey on a spit in front of the unforgiving Triple Mirror of Doom, knows the fragile feeling of asking whether or not they look “good.” As if goodness or badness could be measured by an article of clothing. I’m not saying that I necessarily think I should dress in a way that points out every thing I’m insecure about. But what I think I’m saying is that I should stop trying to pretend that 15 (or whatever) pounds of me doesn’t exist, when it so obviously does. And not only has this “extra padding” not harmed me, I can think of many examples where it’s served me very well, including lowering my risk of heart disease, increasing my longevity and giving me smarter babies. (Gluteofemoral fat for the win!) I should not be ashamed of it.
The flattering-ness of our clothing should be about highlighting our beauty, not camouflaging what we’re afraid of. Flattering shouldn’t be about comparing ourselves to others or to an artificial and unattainable standard of beauty but rather about showing our love for ourselves and appreciation for our bodies.
I know, all that from a pair of gym pants.
This realization didn’t come a moment too soon. In case you’ve missed all the breathless headlines of late, we’re officially entering the Panic Before Bikini Season. And while I’ll never wear a bikini (religious and aesthetic reasons), I do have to don a swimsuit on occasion, mostly thanks to my kids and their penchant for anything messy. So when I got to try out one of Albion swim’s suits, I put it on with some trepidation. As is the case for many women, swimsuits and I have a long, rocky history. If there’s one thing in which you cannot hide your thighs at all, it is a swimsuit. Tummies, shoulders, backs and bums can all be covered to an extent but unless you want to wear a swim dress, you have no help for your legs. It’s one of the reasons I hate swimming, honestly. But my little pants experiment helped me find some confidence to wear one. The suit I chose, The Showstopper, was perfect.
First, it has an awesome retro vibe that I love. Second, it showcases my strong legs and, thanks to the red sash, also highlights my relatively smaller waist. Basically it makes me feel curvy and pretty. So even though I hate swimming, at least now I don’t have to hate my suit too. Albion would love to give one of you a $100 gift card to try out some of their women’s fitness and swimwear (yep, they make workout clothes too! I actually reviewed their skirt a few years ago). Plus, if you see something you like they gave me a code for GFE readers to save $15 on any purchase of $50 or more; the code to use at checkout is fitnessexperiment15 and it expires 4/23/2013!
To enter the Albion giveaway, either like their Facebook page or pin one of their items to Pinterest and then leave me a comment telling me which one you did. If you do both things, leave me an additional comment for a bonus entry. Also, I’d love to hear your thoughts about what makes something “flattering”!
What does “flattering” mean to you? Do you have a body part you routinely try to hide? Have you worn anything with the express purpose of making a part of you look bigger (other than your boobs)??
*So I’m dying to link to the original post so you can read it and be inspired by it too but this particular blogger has made a really big deal about how she doesn’t want people linking to her, interviewing her, quoting her or in any other way making her the poster child for fat acceptance. She says she’s just living her life the way she likes and isn’t trying to invite commentary on it. Which I will respect.
FTC Disclosure: I received one swimsuit for free to try out (LOVED it!). I was not otherwise compensated for this review.