Chicken legs. I have them, don’t like them, but they are mine and I need to embrace them. As I get older it becomes easier to embrace this, despite the fact they are likely destined to get skinnier as I start losing muscle mass with age. I’m trying to combat that now. Fortunately, or not, I’ve never had much muscle mass so I still have an opportunity for growth though approaching my 50’s. But this isn’t a post on how to build muscle in your latter years. This post is about learning to accept the body type you’ve been given. Learning to live and be comfortable in your body, having a positive self image. I’m not saying one can’t or shouldn’t aspire and work toward developing themselves, but the genetics of chicken legs can be difficult to reverse, unless perhaps I’m willing to consult Monsanto.
I’ve grown up small, throughout my early school years I was always the smallest kid in my class, often the last chosen for the sports team, sometimes not chosen at all. I was the boy on the outside of cool, outside the “in crowd.” I struggled with this growing up, and honestly I still sometimes struggle today. In elementary school I was bullied and beat up by kids several grades below me. In junior high my paper route took me into a neighborhood around the corner from my house where I was chased on bikes by a gang of kids from that block. They were my age and younger, but they were a group and I was one. They would try to make me crash on my bike and steal my papers. I entered High School knowing less people then I could count on one hand. I was 4’11” and 98 pounds. No one gets cut from the high school freshman football team, but the coach met with my mother and I and advised I not play. Try out next year, he suggested.
My junior year I got my drivers license, it stated 5’2″ 105 pounds. I grew a phenomenal 3 inches and gained 7 pounds in 2 years, needless to say I wasn’t very optimistic about being “normal.” I can recall hanging upside down by my feet on a pull up bar and praying everyday that I would someday grow. I haven’t thought about that time much but those experiences made me who I am today. The collective social judgement made me an outcast and I often revert to that boy when times are tough. I say collective because no one single person ostracized me, always a/the group. My prayers were answered my senior year when I experienced a growth spurt of 8 inches and 30 pounds. Today I sit at 5’11” 155lbs, but I still have skinny legs.
People still comment on my leg girth to this day.
Retraining oneself to connect when connection triggers fear is difficult even though I am consciously aware of the emotional drivers.
I’m not putting this out here for sympathy or empathy. I speak of it to illustrate where I come from and the damaging effects others can have on the youth that don’t fit the social norm, or rather that don’t fit what they perceive is the social norm. I am an introvert (another post for another day). I wonder, however, if I was born an introvert and it magnified these experiences of not belonging, or if these experiences of not belonging made me an introvert. Regardless, being an extrovert was the social norm society wanted one to fit into. I’m fairly certain there were just as many youths feeling as I did, the difference being we didn’t congregate in groups and push our views on others. We tried to go unnoticed. Eye contact became associated with ridicule and bullying. Retraining oneself to connect when connection triggers fear is difficult even though I am consciously aware of the emotional drivers.
Circling back to my original topic on body image: It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I am not confident in my physical appearance. I was relentlessly teased about my large nose and lips, and my bad acne. With age I become less concerned with it because I just don’t care to be accepted or loved by everyone. However, years of a negative self image reinforced by me has no doubt made it worse than it is. Meaning, what I see in myself most others probably don’t see. I see the small, skinny, awkward, unconfident boy; others who have never met him likely do not. Therefore if they do, it is likely because I’m projecting that kid.
In thinking about it now, isn’t normal just another word for common. Do I want to be common? No. Do you?
What can be done if you, like I, have a poor self image that is based on real experiences but is now more negative self talk than anything? Becoming aware of where the negative self image comes from is the first start. It may be from bullying and being ostracized or it may be something completely different for you. You’re feelings and source of those is likely different than mine, but just as real. What matters is accepting where it came from and being aware that it is these past experiences that trigger your reactions in current situations.
Once aware of a problem and the source of that problem, the next step is devising a plan to tackle and derive a solution to improve. Many of you reading this are athletes; you follow a regimented training plan. You do so to improve weaknesses and build strength. Negative self image is about mental strengths and weaknesses. Devising a plan to combat that should probably look similar to a plan training your body, no? I need to explore what that might look like. It will require pushing beyond comfort zones.
I’ll end this with a thought… Maybe we need to redefine normal. As a child I desperately wanted to be normal because normal meant I fit in, that I belonged. In thinking about it now, isn’t normal just another word for common. Do I want to be common? No. Do you?
So I accept my outward appearance, I accept my inner scars, I accept my athletic abilities, I accept my idiosyncrasies, and I accept my chicken legs. I know that acceptance requires self empathy and work. But its worthwhile work because I am uncommon.