82. Holy Calves

82. Holy Calves

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy & Confident

Holy Calves

When you’re always trying to conform to the norm, you lose your uniqueness, which can be the foundation for your greatness.

~Dale Archer

My father was the first one to point out my unusually large leg muscles. I was just a gangly kid, maybe ten or eleven, and I’d never thought about the shape of my body before.

“You’ve got legs just like your mother,” he said with a smile, ruffling my blond hair.

After he made that comment, I started scrutinizing other girls’ legs and comparing them to my own. I could tell that my legs were different, and when you’re a kid, being different is not a good thing.

I stood in front of the mirror and inspected my legs from every angle. From the front, my calf muscles jutted out so much that they joined together in the middle. From the side, they bulged out like baseball bats, hard and bulbous. From the back, they were inconceivably large. If I stood on my tippy toes, my calf muscles appeared thinner from the front, but even bigger from the back and side.

My leg muscles were enormous no matter which way I turned. Why couldn’t I just have stick straight legs like the other girls in my class?

To top it all off, my mother wouldn’t let me shave them. To put it simply, I had man legs. What had I ever done to deserve such muscular legs? I had the body of a pro athlete, but besides a few stints of soccer and swimming, I wasn’t all that athletic.

Middle school gym class was the worst part of my week. Sitting beside the cool girls on the bleachers, waiting for my turn to run laps or shoot hoops, I was sure they were all staring at my mannish legs. I tried desperately to cover them by pulling my shorts as far down my thighs as possible, but this did little to hide my hairy secret. I was sure they were gawking at my ginormous calves.

Even on the hottest Florida days, I hid my bulky lower body beneath sweatpants and jeans. I gathered that men liked girls with petite bodies, and my monstrous legs made me anything but petite. I wanted to be feminine and delicate like the cool girls I admired in the halls. I watched the way the guys flirted with them, pinching their tiny waists playfully and slinging their arms over their thin, girlish shoulders.

I did everything I could to be like them. I wore ribbons in my hair like they did, making sure the color matched my outfit. I bought the chunkiest platform shoes I could find at the discount shoe store. I made my sister straighten the curls out of my hair with a clothing iron, kneeling beside the ironing board as she passed the hot metal as close to my scalp as possible. But I could never be like those girls with perfect, stick-straight bodies — not with my legs of steel.

One New Year’s Eve, when I was midway through high school, my older cousin Maria stopped me on my way to the buffet table.

“Holy calves!” she said, pulling on my arm and turning me around. “Girl, you’ve got amazing legs.”

“What?” I said, flustered, pulling down the hem of my knee-length dress.

“Seriously,” she continued, flashing me a big smile. “I know so many people — girls and guys — who would kill for legs like that.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Oh yeah! People do all kinds of crazy exercises to get legs as sculpted as yours. Leg lifts and squats and what not. And believe me,” she said, leaning forward and lowering her voice. “Guys love girls with strong legs.”

I let out a creaky laugh and slid out of her grasp. She can’t be serious, I thought. But as she walked away, I noticed her legs beneath her tight skirt. She didn’t have stick straight legs, either, but they didn’t look terrible in a pair of high heels. Maybe there was some truth in her words.

After that, my idea about what a beautiful body looked like began to change. Instead of unconsciously consuming what glossy magazines showed me about beauty and femininity, I investigated my own feelings about the female body. Whoever said that being strong wasn’t beautiful? I became less self-conscious about wearing shorts and skirts. So what if my legs were more muscular than those of your average football player? I decided there were more important things to worry about than the size of my calf muscles.

It is my hope that my children will grow up in a world that celebrates the beauty in women’s strength.

Over the years, my tolerance for these strong and curvy legs of mine turned to affection. People still stop their cars to comment on my muscular limbs when I’m strolling in my neighborhood, but I don’t see the attention as negative anymore.

Once I realized all the amazing things that my strong legs allow me to do, I stopped wishing for my muscles to disappear. These legs have carried me many miles, across mountains and rough terrain. With my muscular legs, I can swim across lakes, pedal across continents, and dance until morning.

I’ll never have the lithe build of the cool girls I looked up to in middle school, and there are some outfits that I cannot pull off because of my bulky frame. Some men might be intimidated by a woman with a body like mine, sculpted and strong, but those are not the men I am interested in. I can’t change the fact that I was born with a muscular body, nor do I want to.

Instead, I have decided to lean into my body type. These days, I never think twice about wearing a pair of shorts, a tight skirt, or a short dress. In fact, the shorter the better.

I am no longer afraid of appearing strong, nor do I associate strength with manliness. It is my hope that my children will grow up in a world that celebrates the beauty in women’s strength. My curvy legs are one of my many strengths, and I love showing them off to the world.

~Carmella de los Angeles Guiol

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