Photographed by Heather Talbert.
Like many, I've had dreams of plastic surgery. Some hope to change the landscape of their bust, to gain a stronger jaw, or a more pert nose. But, my sights were always set on my cankles: I wanted to mold a sloping calf and a gracefully curved ankle where there now exists just a straight line. I hated my squishy, poorly defined lower legs, and, for a time, I would've done anything to change them — or at least hide them away.
That was easy in the Wisconsin winters. Snow pants and boots are the great equalizers; they'd give even Karlie Kloss a case of the canks. But, summers were another story. I encased my gams in denim, sweating my way through the sweltering heat. My shame knew no temperature.
Yet, as we shifted into a skinny-jeans world, my embarrassment turned into denial. I'd shove my stumps into any pair of cigarette-slim denim, which was no easy feat. (Think of it like pounding a cork back into a wine bottle.) The very act of peeling off my pants left me tired, sweaty, and with seam indentations running down the lower half of my legs.
Those times when I was forced to bare my legs, I'd make them into a party trick. "Look at it MOVE!" I'd exclaim as I literally jiggled my calf muscle back and forth, in the kind of insecure, laugh-at-yourself-before-others-get-the-chance gesture we use to protect our fragile egos. It never occurred to me that no one else was laughing — or that no one even noticed what, to me, was my most offensive physical flaw. But, I noticed. I cared.
At least, until nearly two years ago. In August of 2012, I found myself sitting in a folding chair at my father's wake, wearing a cheap black dress and muddy sandals and no tights, my calf-ankles on rare display alongside my grief. Certainly no one gave them a thought, but my luscious, linear lower legs were the only things I felt like addressing at the time.
"Probst legs," my aunt remarked, brandishing her similarly silhouetted calf. And, so began our convo on cankles. Sitting there in a circle at the funeral home, my female relatives and I discussed methods of minimizing our shared malady. Compression hosiery? Calf Spanx?
"Would it be called Canx or Spankles?" someone joked, eliciting the first laugh I'd managed to muster in days.
Besides a pretty poor sense of propriety, it seemed most everyone in my family also shared the mark of the cank — and somehow I'd never even noticed. But, sure enough, there they were: cankles on her, cankles on him. Everywhere, canks. The trait I'd worked so hard to conceal all those years was actually a symbol of the Probst clan. A tie that binds — one that I'll still never dress in a pair of high-tops, of course. Now, when I look at my cankles in all their meaty glory, it's like wearing a family crest. Which, if we had one, would certainly feature a tree stump.