With These Thighs
“Ugh, my thighs look huge.”
My friend and I were flipping through our photos from a recent bike camping trip. There was so much good going on in the photo; we were happy and goofy, the sun was shining. You could see it on our faces, that we were in one of those rare moments that not much mattered but the present, that we were enthralled with the simple act of riding our bicycles, feeling the wind on our faces and talking about whatever came to our minds. Yet here I was, entirely ignoring the beauty of that moment captured in the photo, and instead, focused on how my thighs looked.
I am not alone. This is an automatic reaction for many women: to focus on our appearance above all else. It’s almost second nature when you look at a photo of yourself or stare into the mirror, or simply gather together with another group of women. We have a tendency to pick ourselves apart, focus on all the things we wished looked better, be it our thighs, our hips, our stomachs, our noses, our breasts, our ankles. It’s all up for judgment and scrutiny.
This may seem vain, and to some extent it is, but the onus isn’t just on us; we are after all raised in a culture that teaches us that vanity is of the utmost importance. That how we look shows who we are.
A body is much more than something to sculpt and maintain. A body is our way to get around, our way to see the world. Our body holds our heart and our emotions; it is our vehicle for existing.
A good life is not defined by bikinis and waistlines. A good life is defined by interactions and experiences. Yet instead of thinking, “I am happy, healthy, grounded,” we instead so often revert to, “ugh, my [insert body part here].”
For me, it’s those damn thighs. I’ve been aware of my lack of a thigh gap – the thing that all mainstream media tells me that I should have – since the time that most girls start to realize their bodies don’t fit the standards society sets out for them. In those days, we’re young and impressionable, and unfortunately, usually it’s too young for us to grasp that those standards are unattainable. And whether they are attainable or not, harder still for us to understand that above all, those standards aren’t good ways to measure our wellbeing.
What we know at that age is what we see, and what we see are images of perfectly proportioned women. While we might not be able to shape our feelings into words, to put a name to how this impacts us, we can sense that society wants us to strive for the same. And so we start to focus, not what our bodies are capable of doing, not all the things about our bodies that are worth celebrating, but instead, all of the things that we deem “wrong” with them.
But what if challenged ourselves to reverse our thinking?
A friend sent me some stickers last week. Printed on them are the words “With these thighs,” a reminder of what we do with those thighs. The stickers were made with cyclists in mind, but I think that it’s a good reminder for all of us. A reminder to honor and celebrate, not just what our thighs are capable of, but our body as a whole.
With these thighs, I have ridden thousands of miles on my bicycle.
With these thighs, I walk in the forest, listening to the sounds of nature.
With these thighs, I hold warrior two pose in yoga, long enough that my legs burn.
With these thighs, I cross my legs to sit in the grass.
With these thighs, I move my body.
With these thighs, I am a strong, independent woman.
With these thighs, I am alive.
This of course is not how society usually has us thinking. I did some quick Googling on the topic, and there are a handful of “will cycling make my legs bigger?” articles out there. I even found a video titled “How to ride your bicycle without bulking up your quads, thighs, & legs.”
Why focus on this one thing when there are so many positives of cycling to focus on? Because we continually tell women that what they do carries less importance than what they look like.
Will riding a bicycle make your legs bigger? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. Will cycling make you feel confident and put a smile on your face? Fuck yeah.
I want a body that takes me places. I want to see things. I want thighs that help me to pedal hard up a hill. I want to feel things. I want a heart that’s happy and healthy, physically and emotionally.
I want to feel alive.
Most importantly, I know that I want a lifestyle that’s more full of “fuck yeahs” than feeling bad about what I should or shouldn’t look like.
Anna Brones is a freelance writer and founder of Foodie Underground. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist, Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break, Paris Coffee Revolution and Hello, Bicycle. You can also find her over on Sprudge, where she is a staff writer, as well as Adventure Journal, where she develops recipes that are geared towards outdoor trips.