Thick Thighs, Muscles and How Running Improved My Body Image

Photo in East Harlem by Marques Jackson.

printed leggings for women

When I was growing up and running track and cross country, I always had muscular legs and a "big butt." So many guys would comment on my "big" legs - from boyfriends to classmates to strangers at 7-11. Just by walking somewhere, anywhere, I was apparently making a statement when all I wanted to do was run, get to class on time, get a Slurpee, see my friends, etc...

I used to shudder at the thought of wearing anything that drew attention to my muscular legs. Finding jeans that fit my waist without being too tight in the butt and legs was something I dreaded. I avoided jeans shopping as much as possible. I'd see skinny legged models in magazines, TV, and movies and think these clothes must be made for them.

Love these leggings by Dona Jo.

Love these leggings by Dona Jo.

Throughout our lives, most girls are told to look and act feminine. We grow up with our bodies commented on just for being in public - as if our bodies are posters or objects not attached to human beings. Whether our bodies are seen as "attractive" or outside of the realm of mainstream beauty, many men feel compelled to yell, whistle, comment and remark on just the fact that a female body is there. This was not very helpful for someone with social anxiety. I just wanted to hide sometimes.

But running kept me focused on what my body could do. As an athlete with a muscular body, I would get random men asking me if I play soccer, telling me to stop working out so much, or saying sexual things I didn't even understand at the time. If only they had so much concern for issues going on in the world! 

But even at the times I wanted to hide my legs and avoid comments, I never felt ashamed of my legs. My family was supportive of being strong, and my parents used to come and cheer at my cross country races. My friends, too, were runners, some also girls with "big" legs. We would lessen the sting of harassment by making fun of the harassers and giving construction workers the finger. 

Throughout school, I was so focused on my races and running practices that I never once thought I should stop running to make my legs "thinner." Unfortunately I had a friend who went down that road - her boyfriend told her she looked better when she didn't work out and was "thinner," and that was a wrap for her athletic career. It was a shame because she had accomplished so much - already running a marathon by the time we graduated high school.

As I grew up and continued to run, I learned to tune out the comments, especially once I got to New York and discovered the magic of wearing headphones everywhere. I also realized that no matter how I looked - whether I had on heels and a dress or sweat pants - harassment could come at any time. So I thought fuck it, I'm wearing whatever the hell I want, and often don bright colored, patterned leggings. I'm enjoying the bright colors I love on running tights, and feeling happy with the legs that have carried me so far, from track workouts to the NYC marathon.

Fast forward a few decades and Beyoncés later, and now it's more popular to have "thick" legs. There's even the term "Thick Fit" for strong women. 

I'm happy it's become more acceptable to be muscular, but I've also come to realize that people will still have an opinion about how women should look. I will always do what makes me happy and strong - running, weight lifting, pole dance, rock climbing, hiking, yoga, bar workouts, and hopefully many more fitness activities I get to try.

Although I still hear women say they don't want to look too "strong" or "muscular," I hope that within our own minds we can all come to terms with our bodies and continue doing what we love, damn the comments.

Thank you to my best friend, photographer Marques Jackson, for the creative fitness photo shoots, and for continuing to encourage me to be strong, be proud and be myself.

Photo in Brooklyn by Marques Jackson.

Photo in Brooklyn by Marques Jackson.