"Dang, You Look Like A Man In That Dress!"
He meant it as a compliment.
Yet, as a 17-year-old girl, that sentence hit like a ton of bricks.
He was a friend, a fellow student athlete who knew my daily workout grind better than anyone. That day, I had worn a beautiful tan dress to school, and when I spotted him while I was walking home on the other end of the street, I couldn't help but feel pretty as I strode down the sidewalk.
But then, he said it. The sentence that followed was, "I mean, damn, your calves look ripped!" I didn't hear it too well, because the anxiety that crept up from my stomach was louder.
That was three years ago. Seven years prior, when I was 10 years old, a scale entered my household for the first time. I remember how cold it felt when I gingerly stepped on it, how it seemed so scary. What I read underneath my toes baffled me. The number was far higher than I had ever imagined. Yet, I told myself, who was I to be surprised? I had always stood out, parents joked at how I was a head taller than their children. When I was 9 years old, my doctor informed me that my “larger bone structure” would require extra amounts of calcium. As I stared down at the numbers on the scale, I thought back to that doctor's visit. Her words translated into a word that would consume my mind for years to come: “fat."
Flashing forward again to that moment at 17. At the time, I was fully immersed as junior captain on my high school's rowing team. I now row in college. My ripped calves have provided me with opportunities I never would have imagined as a vulnerable 10-year-old girl. My strong arms have given me experiences I could have only dreamed about.
As I move through this summer's unavoidable swimsuit season, I make sure to catch myself in moments of doubt. I try to realize that feeling relieved that the one-piece bathing suit trend covers my stomach is definitely not the best mindset to have (because even though I look great in a one-piece, I still look just as good in a bikini), and I actively work to shut down creeping thoughts of body negativity. And it's actually helpful for me to remember that moment on the street when I was 17.
Yes, my calves look ripped and, yes, I wouldn't have it any other way.
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