CONTENT WARNING: BODY IMAGE, WEIGHT
It was in one of my first ever P.E. classes, in the first weeks of Primary School, that I decided my legs were wrong.
Decked out in compulsory uniform of scratchy, crinkly, black polyester shorts, white ankle socks, white polo short, and black plimsoles, this kind of clothing was new and unfamiliar to me and my body. My mum didn’t buy me shorts like this. Even at five years old, I was already aware and embedded with self-imposed rules about what clothing was, and was not, acceptable to my body.
As the teacher talks to us, I stare down at my legs and am absolutely shocked and horrified to suddenly notice bumps of flesh, about the size of my palm, jutting out on either side of my thighs, just above my knees. They weren’t usually there, but now, as I sit this new way, they appear out of nowhere to taunt me. What a cruel deception!
I look up and down the line of legs belonging to other girls in my class, who are seated in the same way. Their legs looked normal, from where I was. My friend Claudia, who was sat next to me, well her legs were skinny, straight and totally bump free. She was pretty and popular. Her Dad owned a sweet shop and she even had a boyfriend, who was also in our class. He was called Simon. He’d always say mean things to me. They were both blonde and perfect, with their lump free legs. No wonder they were in love.
After all, that’s what legs were meant to be; Straight up and down. I wasn’t good at P.E. but I was good at drawing. And I 100% knew that to draw a person, it was a circle head, oval body, and four lines – two for arms, two for legs. Legs were straight lines. Not lines with big wiggles protruding from them,
You know who else didn’t have lumps of fat on her legs? Barbie. All of my Barbie dolls had legs like Claudia’s. Thin, straight, tanned and beautiful.
I stared back down, dismayed by what I was faced with. What a shit lot I’d been drawn. I start grabbing and pinching at these pale, fatty, lumps, taking them between my forefinger and thumb. Squeezing, wishing I could just pinch them off my body, and throw them away.
I also note how my skin is pasty and freckled. I decide that with the freckles and the bumps, my legs look like big ugly potatoes. Ol’ Potato Legs, that’s how everyone will know and remember me.
From that moment swear to myself to conceal my pale, lumpy, potato legs from the world. Another little rule to add to my list.
P.E. classed subsequently became a red faced, shameful and dreaded affair. I’d ‘forget’ my sports uniform whenever I knew I could get away with it. And the following year, when it was time for a new pair of shorts, I was sure to stress to my mother the importance that my replacements were long. “Beyond the knee, Mum, they must be long and below the knee.” Thankfully she understood, and empathised, so obliged without fuss, to which I was always very grateful.
And those poor legs, who did nothing but work hard, carry me all day long, be strong, healthy, and perfectly functional, would not be see the light of day again for many, many years.