When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a ballerina. After years of dancing I finally became aware that I was never cast in any piece that was costumed in a short tu-tu. I was cast in the roles with the skirts than fell below the knee. This was because my thighs were twice the size of all the other little girls around me. In spite of trying to minimize myself by almost any means necessary, I simply could not drop under 112 pounds on my 5 foot 6 frame. I was big-boned, as they say.
Somewhere along the line I fell in love with my bicycle. I could ride and ride and ride for hours. I would get lost and end up on highways, to be escorted off of the highways by the state police. I felt like I was flying. I felt I could be daring. I found a new way to dance, balanced on two slick wheels, swerving and swirling and squealing downhill.
I took my bike to college. Impatient to wait for the campus bus, hating to be dependent on public transportation, I rode my bike to campus. And all over Pittsburgh. I brought my bike to NYC during a year off from college. Afraid to ride the subway and to be caught confused trying to read the signs, I learned Manhattan above ground. It made sense, needing a job, that I should try being a bike messenger. One of three girls on the road that year, I discovered an entire sub-culture swimming through traffic, obsessed with their bikes and bearing super-hero names. I was called "LEGS". Funny that. And I was fast. And my legs were thick. And I started to become a little less embarrassed about my thighs.
Back to college. Messengering summers. Graduating. Back to NYC. Messengering and auditioning for acting roles between runs. My dress folded up under my jacket, my bag full of packages, I locked my bike, let down my dress, removed my helmet and applied some lip-gloss and prayed the audition wouldn't take too long.
"Hey LEGS! You gotta answer you pager! Where've you been? The client is calling for the package! That was a RUSH JOB!"
"So sorry man, I got a flat. I'm on it!"
After work, riding 8 hours a day, a few of us would take a couple laps in central park, in the dark. This was thrilling. We would go around three times, dodging each other and randomly someone would call out "SPRINT!!!!" We'd all surge forward. I surged to the lead enough times that some said I should race. So I did. And I won.
Within a year, I wasn't acting anymore. Within two I was sponsored and racing against girls four years younger who had been racing four years longer, and keeping up nationally.
Fast forward another year to motherhood and weighing in at 190- after the baby. So here is where it gets tricky. I comforted myself with knowing I had experienced the unexpected athlete within me. I had ridden right through the wall of my body-image issues. I was strong. And now, I was going to fully embrace my plus-size self and become a model.
I got a gig with a TV shopping network. The only thing was, that in order to work, I needed to purchase padding. WHAT?! I wasn't big enough! They needed me to bulk up from size 14-16 to 20-22. I was astounded. I was always too big. Now I wasn't big enough. Mind blown.
Before heading onto the set, I always checked the outfit, checked my posture and smiled at this padded version of myself. After a year of mechanically smiling at myself in the mirror, something clicked. I had confused 'settling' for 'acceptance'. These are two different things. At that moment, a voice in my head said, "This isn't your truth. This is not your authentic self. Your body was meant to move. Let's do an experiment. Lets see how strong you could be. Forget this padding. You want to stand free of any padding, naked and strong in your true self". So I finished on set that day and did not go back.
Fast forward a year. I'm certified to teach Indoor Cycling. I get strong again. Fast forward five years. I race a few times. I take 3rd place overall for the season. The following year I decide to commit. I go to Masters National. I take a gold and a bronze. Again the next year, two silver and a bronze.
These thighs that consumed my thoughts and fed my shame finally became the thing that made me proud. It is one of my deepest hopes that someone might be inspired by my journey to truly embrace, accept and build on your natural gifts. We are worth so much more than a smaller pair of pants.