Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one's definition of your life, but define yourself.
I was fourteen when I went into hiding. I had been wearing black dress shorts and lace-up black boots, a look I'd seen in a magazine. I thought I looked good, until a friend told me what a boy had said. "He thought you looked nice, except your legs."
That did it. I'd always been insecure about my legs and now I knew it was true. I really did have fat legs—they were too wide, too short and too rounded, just as I feared.
For years after that I only wore loose-fitting pants or long dresses, even in summer, even at the beach. I even swam in jeans.
I tried dieting, cut out soda, and even became a vegetarian in an effort to slim down my legs. Nothing worked. These were the legs I was given.
After college, I decided to try running. I lived with my parents in the country, which was perfect for me—no one would see me. My first run was awful. I was slow and breathless in less than a mile, and I felt like an out-of-shape failure. I wanted to give up, but a friend told me that anything could become a habit after three months. I decided to work out consistently for at least three months. And although the gym intimidated me, I signed up at one so that bad weather wouldn't stop me.
The first day at the gym, I was worried I'd look foolish trying to figure out the machines and worse yet, trying to run. But no one seemed to be paying attention to me. The more I went, the more I realized that other newcomers were there too, starting their own exercise programs and unsure how to use the equipment. I began to feel comfortable at the gym.
I started going three to four days a week, always on the treadmill, mostly walking with just a little running. Gradually, I added more until I was running more than walking. Eventually, I was running for about forty minutes. I went from hating running to loving it, craving it even. I ran five or six days a week and started increasing my distances. The three-month plan had worked for me and my legs were getting stronger.
One day, an instructor running next to me on the treadmill suggested I try her class. A class? My mind raced with excuses: I imagined perfectly toned people looking at me and wondering what I was doing there. I wouldn't know the exercises and I'd look silly. But she was so encouraging that I told her I'd go, telling myself I'd stay in the back of the class so no one could see me.
After trying it however, I felt energized. Within weeks, I was at the front of the class and the instructor was asking me to demonstrate moves. Months later, my instructor friend suggested I apply for an instructor position at the gym.
"Me, teaching? In front of people?"
There was no hiding the shape of my legs in front of a class. But now, having been at the gym for some time, I'd seen all types of bodies and realized that all shapes and sizes were beautiful.
I applied and got the job! I went from hiding my legs to showing them off in tight Spandex in front of a whole class!
Now, I am thankful for my strong legs that power me up hills on my runs, enable me to do squats, and help me hold a pose longer. I wear shorts, capris, yoga pants, skinny jeans, and even a bikini!
I still teach fitness, and I love when beginners come to my classes. I look forward to helping them find reasons to continue—like having more energy, increasing strength and balance, and improving their mood.
I hope they realize that the bodies they have are beautiful, one of a kind. And they should never feel like they have to hide.
Cover image via Blue ocean photo I Shutterstock
This story is from Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy & Confident: 101 Stories about Loving Yourself and Your Body © 2016 Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC. All rights reserved.