Have Dental Floss, Will Travel

Mapping the world, one waxy strand at a time…


I’ve almost written this post half a dozen times in the past couple years, but each time I stop myself.

I hesitate in part out of self-consciousness, and in part because I’m not sure exactly how to say what I want to say.

Most days it’s not an issue.  Most of the time I don’t really notice.

But then there are those moments – the ones where you’re in need of a dress for an upcoming summer of weddings, or you look down as you’re pedaling away on your bike, or you’re sitting in a motel across from floor-to-ceiling mirrored closets.

And you can’t seem to do anything but notice.

You see, I have a thing about my calves.

They’re just, well, strong… and muscular… and defined.

Objectively, I know that this is a silly thing to be self-conscious about – and of course that knowledge makes me self-conscious for being so self-conscious in the first place.  I rarely mention my calves to anyone, and when I do, I’m generally met with reactions that make me feel even more self-conscious for voicing that self-consciousness about being self-conscious in the first place.  (There’s a tongue twister for you.)

My friends think I’m nuts.  My mom thinks I’m silly.  My husband thinks I’m ridiculous.

But when you add in a couple months of 15+ hours of running, hiking, and biking each week that seems only to have increased said definition (in my head, if nowhere else), plus an afternoon of thorns that leaves them criss-crossed with scars, and balance them out with the shoulders and waist of a former butterflier…

Well, I start to feel a little less girly.

I’ve always been athletic.  I’ve always had muscles.  I’ve always been wanting in the curve department.  I’m 5′ 2″ tall on a good day and can still shop in the kids department if I want to.

In recent years, as I’ve begun to identify as an athlete again for the first time since those competitive swimming days, I’ve struggled a bit with how to reconcile that with wanting to feel a little girly every now and again.

I know that they shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.

But sometimes it feels like they are.

(I guess no matter how much of a feminist my mom is, and no matter how much I resist, I’m still susceptible to those pesky cultural definitions of femininity.)

So, why am I writing this post now?

Well, in part because I’m still sitting in that motel room with the floor-to-ceiling mirrored closets.

But more to the point, I’m interested to know whether others struggle with this same little identity crisis.

What do you think?  Do you ever feel like being a runner/triathlete/cyclist/adventure racer makes you feel less feminine (sorry, boys… I guess this is a pretty gendered post.  But feel free to offer your own insights about athletic girls)?

What do you do when these thoughts creep into your head?

Ridiculous as it sounds, sometimes nights like these make me want to go out and get a pedicure or something…


21 responses to “Girliness

  1. Brian March 21, 2011 at 10:30 pm

    Hey, I’ve often dealt with issues of self-acceptance and false ideals for myself. I mean they don’t involve my calves or how I look in a dress (though if they did I guess that’d be cool too), but sometimes career, forehead, whatever.

    What I always struggle with and come to terms with over and over again, is that it’s never a good idea to judge myself on the outside, or more importantly someone else’s outsides. And a lot of time, my judging myself by some vague ideal is usually way off anyway.

    Evidence suggests your husband thinks you are girly enough. Plus, think of it this way, you earned those calves. They probably deserve to be shown off.

    Ninety percent of being girly/manly/whatever enough is attitude and confidence in yourself anyway. Am I right? Or dangerous close to a beating being a guy responding to this?

    • Abby March 21, 2011 at 10:35 pm

      Not to worry, Brian – not close to being beaten up 🙂 I appreciate the thoughts, and intellectually I know that everything you say is right on. Just not always great at actually internalizing that! By the way, I think we were writing simultaneous comments…

  2. MidlifeCruiser March 22, 2011 at 2:18 am

    Oh man, do I ever feel your pain! I was in the gym looking at myself compared to all the dainty girls in class, & came home feeling like a short linebacker. I will never have twiggy arms. And sometimes I’d like to have them. But sometimes I like my ass thrashing guns. So until there are Mr. Potato Head style attachment options for what arms I want for which outfit, I’m gonna have to let it go. And if anyone looks at me in the gym mirror sideways, I’m gonna use my tough, thick arms to squeeze the life out of them!

  3. MidlifeCruiser March 22, 2011 at 2:22 am

    Oh, BTW, LA Fitness is a big national gym. I just got a 2 month membership to finish up our stay in California. I still do the outdoor stuff, but I was LONELY for some girl company & thought the group classes would do my estrogen some good.

  4. Kelsey March 22, 2011 at 6:07 am

    After 4 years of medical school laziness and gluttony, I certainly don’t have the athletic body that I used to, but I’ve managed to retain my linebacker shoulders and power calves. Living in sweltering Saint Louis, the only logical option for everyday attire during the summer is SKIRTS. Every day last summer i would pull on my skirt and wonder if anyone ever saw me from the back, look at my calves and wonder if I was actually a dude (huge white coat to cover any feminine feature that might otherwise give it away). I would catch a glimpse of the calves of the lady doctors who’ve never set foot in a gym and have the daintiest little legs and want them. When I was trying on various options for our winter party, J was giving his input (not the least bit helpful in choosing a dress) and i don’t think he had any clue about my self consciousness about those legs but he said, “I love the way your calves look in heels and a dress-that’s way hotter than supermodel legs.” So apparently it’s hot bahahahahaha! That same night this petite little girl in my class comes over to me and says, “I wish I had legs like you.” My response was, “Most days I wish I had legs like you too.” Just be proud of those legs! You’ve worked hard for them!!!! And I bet they look hot in heels!

  5. middleagedrunner March 22, 2011 at 7:02 am

    I feel the way about my arms that you do about your calves.
    There is nothing subtle about my big beefy arms. They are decidedly jacked and I get “can I buy tickets to the gun show” comments on the regular… I am glad that my arms are strong and non-flabby but in my eyes they are decidedly un-feminine! I stand next to my little petite feminine friends with their tinkerbelle like bone structure and I’m like, dayum- my arms are as big as that girls thighs! (and yes I know it is all in my head. I’m about as small as they come except for my Terminator like arrrrmmmmssss!!)
    I liked this post a lot and it shows that even though girls like us are little, fit and tough we still want to be seen as girls damnit!

    • brenda March 27, 2011 at 9:38 am

      Thank you thank you!!! I needed to hear this from someone other than the voices in my own head. I too am of the “beefy arm set”. Its always plagued me…and I taunt myself on a regular basis. Other girls at the gym must notice my staring at them…but its just total envy. I want their lithe bodies…spindly arms as they sweat to lift a meager 10lb. dumbell. Here I’m hefting more than twice as much weight in one arm and I’m like….maybe I should pretend to struggle with the 10lb dumbell ? Even if I work out with less weight…I still have these massive arms. One time this Hasedic salesman at my work says to me…”you hev arms like a men”. I said, “yeah, I do hev’ arms like a men. Oh well. If that’s my biggest complaint in life…I should consider myself very lucky. Without my hefty strong arms…I couldn’t lift my 27lb + baby in one arm, and a 25lb stroller in the other at the same time. There’s a lot I couldn’t do. I don’t see too many moms heaving their 40lb sons to carry them on their shoulders either….so if I look at the positives…I always win.

      I will always lament a bit, and probably always be quite self conscious about wearing a tank top, or wishing I could wear more sleeveless shirts or sundresses. I have to remember I still can…and its not a requirement of these garments to have (so well put)..”twiggy” arms. Being fem is in my head, and my attitude…not the size of my arms. Thanks for this topic Abby!

  6. Kari w/ Jogging with Fiction March 22, 2011 at 8:18 am

    Oh man, I definitely deal with this. I’ve never been very “girly,” my sister seems to have gotten all of the fashion genes and I’ve really been thinking about it lately because I’m going to be a bridesmaid in my friend’s wedding. Unfortunately, not matter how small a size we get of the dress, I’m still flat chested with super muscular legs…I’m sort of dreading being a part of the wedding and have had several people suggest I stuff my bra (lovely) to look normal. I don’t know. I am really proud of how strong my body is and what it can do, but it stinks that it’s not “cute” sometimes.

  7. Mallory March 22, 2011 at 8:45 am

    What a great post! I am glad that you posted it. I think most women who are athletic have felt that way at least once in their lives. Society makes women think that we must be curvy and submissive. How about we change that?

  8. Kim (Book Worm Runs) March 22, 2011 at 11:43 am

    Aw! Well I am sure this is something that most strong and athletic women deal with so you are definitely not alone!! Be proud of those calves girl, you worked hard to get them!! 🙂

  9. Julie (A Case of the Runs) March 22, 2011 at 11:49 am

    I used to think my leg muscles made me look manly, but I think I was just being paranoid. Now, I embrace my muscle definition… Maybe people will think I can kick their behinds and not mess with me. I’d rather have muscles than non-muscular bulges… I’m sure you are just as girly as the rest of the lot. 😉

    Sorry about my lack of attentive blog commenting recently… I *think* I’m defending next month and am terrified of failure. Does anyone ever fail their final? Ahhhhhggghhh!

  10. denise March 22, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    interesting. one, i never picture you self conscious…but i guess we are all human. i don’t think i feel any less girly from being athletic. if anything, i feel less girly because i hate to shop and do nothing to my hair. maybe that’s why i’m so obsessive about painting my nails. it’s the one thing about me that is girly. i love getting dressed up and wish i could do it more often, but that would involve shoe shopping and i just don’t do that. wow, i’m getting off track here.

    anyway, embrace those calves!! you’re an incredible athlete and you couldn’t do it w/o strong legs!!

  11. Joel March 22, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    I found it humorous that you made this post. My girlfriend is also self-conscious of her defined calves. The other night when she mentioned them, I told her, “You have the nicest calves i’ve ever seen, second only to Abby, a former teamate, who dominates multi-day adventure races, so don’t feel bad!”

    There you have it! Love those legs, most girls would kill for them!

  12. Elise March 22, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    I sometimes get this feeling, but I remind myself that being athletic empowers me, as a woman, in an additional way. I sometimes do girly things to make myself feel feminine — like wear pink, flowery shirts, or cute hair bands to hold my fly-aways back. I have even (once or twice) put on some mascara and lipgloss before a big race for ‘self confidence’ booster and I also paint my nails. But embrace your body, and legs, cuz 9 out of 10 girls would kill for ‘that’ problem 😉

  13. RunToTheFinish March 22, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    my calves have always been a source of comments from others, seriously there are bigger than many guys thighs because they are so muscular. That doesn’t bother me…but when I go to get all girlie, I definitely notice that overall I just don’t feel as like myself as when I’m in my workout gear

  14. Laurie March 22, 2011 at 9:14 pm

    As I don’t really have muscles, I can’t entirely relate but I get your point — I am an expert at having booboos on my knees from spring until fall as I am gifted and talented at falling, especially when I am wearing shorts. I usually sport my scabs and resulting scars with pride, but sometimes I feel a bit gross. I’ve pretty much never felt girly in my life though (that started when I was four when my mom signed me up for dance class instead of soccer and I cried) so it doesn’t usually bother me.

  15. Natalie March 23, 2011 at 4:43 am

    Great post! I think that for me being athletic makes me feel more fit and in shape which in turn helps my body to look stronger but also more attractive so I can identify with what you are saying for sure and I guess I think being athletic is sexy!

  16. Angela Kidd March 23, 2011 at 11:30 am

    You are not alone. I have always been bothered by the fact that the insides of my thighs touch and it really doesn’t matter how thin I get, they will touch. I have small hips and a small pelvis and my legs are just close together. But it drives me CRAZY.

    And as I was pulling my hair back into another ponytail this morning because I desperately need it cut and highlighted I thought to myself “I really wish how I looked bothered me more so I’d do something about this situation.”

  17. Black Knight March 23, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    Great post.
    I don’t think that an athletic and in perfect shape woman is less feminine. Moreover an athletic woman looks also younger.

  18. the dawn March 28, 2011 at 11:31 am

    i’m totally with you. my calves aren’t necessarily huge, but they are scarily muscular. i think it’s only really noticeable when i wear heels and no nylons…. but you know, its never made me feel less feminine. i also have thick-ish arms and huge quads… all goes with the territory i feel. i’m not the most girly of girls, but i do enjoy getting all dressed up and pretty. which i do like to imagine would be easier with a less athletic build. however i would never change any one part of my body. i feel like it has been more than faithful to me and all that i’ve asked it to do over the years…. and it makes me love all the buldges even more.

  19. Pingback: Holy Heels (Help!) « Have Dental Floss, Will Travel

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: