Rebel Girl Spirit Redux

by Jaclyn McCabe August 14, 2019

"Ugh, I hate my thighs," I groaned and slammed my laptop shut.

"Is that what we're doing today?" Sarah sassily inquired from her desk behind mine. "Okay, just let me know when to change the website to ‘self-hate coach.’"

Moments before, I had been squealing with delight as I scrolled through the much-anticipated photos from the Not So Skinny Dip. One beautiful bikini-clad woman after another filled my screen.

"Oh snap, look at her go!" I commented on a beauty taking up space on the dance floor. "These are amazing!" I was giddy with joy.

And then there they were — my big ol' blubbery thighs staring right at me. 

"Gross," I thought. "Why didn't you wear those shorts you brought to the party?"

I took a deep breath.

"Just don't post that one," I said to my inner critic and kept scrolling.  

Quickly, I was again overwhelmed with excitement as I sifted through images of you all laughing, swimming, dancing, and of course, jiggling.

BAM! 

There it was: a stop-action photo of my thigh wobble. 

Not So Skinny Dip - New Orleans, La photo by Emily KaskPhoto by Emily Kask

My insides caved in. I closed my laptop and groaned. 

The irony of the joyous celebration of the Not So Skinny Dip triggering this reaction was not lost on me. 

Sometimes I don't know if my knowledge of diet culture, beauty myths, and fatphobia make moments like this better or worse. But I do know that it is a new trick that my inner bully uses when trying to knock me down. That day, the trickster’s trick worked. 

"You are a fraud," it started in. "You stand up in front of 150 women and tell them to jiggle themselves to self-love, and here you are freaking out about your thigh jiggle."

When I wrote my essay "It's All About the Jiggle," a plus-size lady friend and I spent three days trying to come up with a descriptor for the sensation of fat wobbling. That thing that happens when your fat takes off on a self-propelled adventure. 

We were so proud of that line.

I texted her the photo with the words "stop-action of my fat on a self-propelled adventure." And because texting, she missed my sarcastic undertones. 

"I love this pic!" she replied, "It looks like y' all had so much fun! I'm so sad I missed it." 

My desire for a self-hating buddy unsatisfied, I texted my trainer. "I hate my thighs. Let's do legs for the rest of the summer." 

Apparently, all the years of body-positive conversations while working out, paired with my refusal to step on a scale or ever let her measure my progress, had converted her into a diet culture dropout as well.

"What is this about?" she responded. "I have never heard you say anything bad about your body."

Which was met with a self-flagellating text rant about my big ol' blubbery thighs.

"Okay, see you Monday," she replied. "Oh, and it's an arms day, you nut."

Defeated in my quest for someone to cosign my bullshit, I drove home to sulk alone.

***

The journey of my thighs is long. I was an athlete in my younger years, a strong middle hitter on the volleyball court. I could spike and block way above the net with an easy three-step jump—all in my thighs. The other middle hitter on the varsity team was affectionately named "The Whip," and I was crowned "Thunder Thighs." 

Admittedly, the new nickname was a nice departure from my junior high moniker of "Ogre," but I loathed it anyway. With sixteen-year-old-eyes, I couldn't see that my teammates were commenting on the athletic strength of my body, not the fatness of my thighs. On top of that, finding new team uniforms was always an issue because my tall, muscular body required an XL that wasn't readily available in the trendy options.

I vividly remember the day I stopped wearing shorts in public. I was working as a photojournalist for a local newspaper. My assignment that day was to cover an outdoor Juneteenth celebration. The Louisiana sun was blazing down, so I was wearing shorts in an attempt to stay cool.

"It's unprofessional to wear shorts to work," my editor scolded as I walked into the newsroom. 

At the time, I was the only woman on the photography staff. My male coworkers donned khaki shorts with their polo shirts tucked in all summer long. In an effort to make lemonade out of lemons, I shamefully took to wearing maxi skirts exclusively. I could move around to get the shot without exposing my lady bits and stay relatively cool in the summer heat.

Years later, a boyfriend made an offhanded comment about my thighs looking like whale blubber when I walked down the stairs from his bedroom to the kitchen in my underwear and a t-shirt. 

In hindsight, I wish I would have walked out the door (for that and a lot of other things). But back then, I didn't have the confidence that comes with age and life experiences. Instead, I protected myself by not letting him or future romantic partners see me walk around in my underwear. The word "blubbery" permanently implanted in my mind as the correct descriptor for my thighs.  

My whole life could easily be reduced to a series of anecdotes in which people, mostly men, let me know that I was too much and not enough, all at the same time.[1]

***

After spending a few days steeped in thigh hatred, I walked into a coffee shop and heard Tracy Chapman singing about revolutions sounding like a whisper. 

"Oh, that's right," I thought to myself. "I need a personal revolution."

It was the exact call to action I needed to push past this inner bully and get back to the liberation of self-love. I knew exactly what to do next. 

I met the self-loathing pain with my rebel girl spirit. The practical application was a series of quiet, contrary self-care things. In the moment, they didn't seem like they would make a difference, but I did them anyway, knowing from experience that they would eventually help shift my perspective. 

Things like, avoid distracting myself with the next project. Instead, take a week off and revel in the success of the pool party. Tell trusted friends I was struggling with a body issue, despite the risk of embarrassment that I "should" be better than that. Get all the icky thoughts onto paper and then burn the paper, instead of pushing feelings aside. Let myself cry because feelings aren't facts. Turn up the volume and hit repeat on Miss Eaves’ "Thunder Thighs" during my morning jiggle routine, when I really just wanted to stop the silly routine altogether. Wear shorts to the grocery store when I wanted to be in yoga pants for the rest of my life. Eat a burger in a bikini in front of thin-bodied women instead of wrapping myself up in a beach towel and staying hungry. Lie in the grass at City Park eating cake with my best guy friend when I wanted to hide away in my house alone.

Jaclyn McCabe - New Orleans, La photo by Jennifer Zdon, Twirl Photography

Photo by Jennifer Zdon, Twirl Photography

And after a little time, the quiet revolution started to liberate my thoughts. I was beginning to see and feel the joy in the photo, rather than zeroing in on the stop-action of my thigh wobble.

A few weeks later, in a twist of fate and a push from that still, quiet voice called intuition,  I found myself sitting in a smoke-filled dive bar not far from my hometown, swapping stories with my high school boyfriend. 

I knew that old loves could be powerful healers. It was only a couple of years ago that I let the sexy, cool bass player from my twenties accurately reflect back to me the fun spark-filled girl he couldn't believe wanted to be with him. 

When my high school boyfriend confessed that he had read all my essays after my out-of-the-blue phone call a few days before, I probably cut him off a little too soon as he tried to tell me how beautiful he saw my body back then. 

As the evening went on and the memories flooded in, I leaned in to flirt a little with my long-ago love. I crossed my left thigh over my right and let it peek out from my asymmetrical hemline. He reached down, ever so slightly touching my arm, then my leg, with a small flirty squeeze like he had done a million times before. My sixteen-year-old self was smitten all over again. 

My adult self couldn't help but laugh when I realized that I had just used my thigh—public enemy number one—to entice a man. Further, I'm basically a one-trick pony when it comes to flirty moves. Remember the fishnets and that bass player? Same move. 

With a mischievous smile and a wink, he called me ornery. I threw back my head and laughed. I hadn't been called ornery in years.[2] 

"You were always so brave," he said during a retelling of our missed prom night. "You marched into that principal's office and demanded to go to prom with me. They denied you, but you fought for what you wanted nonetheless."[3] 

"Oh, that's right," I thought to myself. "That's the root of my rebel girl spirit today. The ornery bit that helps me stand in my worth." 

Back then, my rebel girl spirit means sneaking out of the house to cruise backcountry roads in classic cars with a boy from the wrong side of town. It was still my shield from all the pretty shiny people giving me the message that I was too much and yet not enough. It was the hard and loud traditional definition of a rebel. 

But, as with all malformed coping mechanisms, my early adoption of rebel girl spirit wasn't strong enough to protect me from the pretty shiny people. Try as that rebel girl might, sometime in my twenties, I lost my self. I started to believe that I was too much, and yet not enough.

Today, I'm hella grateful for my enduring and evolving rebel girl spirit. I use it a little differently these days, and it looks different from the middle fingers of my youth. It's stronger than ever, too. 

It's the audacity I have to love myself anyway. It's the quieter voice that speaks my truth (sometimes unskillfully). It's the part that stands in my worth (even when I lose my balance). It's the nonconformist part that doesn't give a damn what anyone else thinks of me—including that trickster inner bully. 

My rebel girl spirit guides the self-propelled adventure that doesn't actually have anything to do with my thighs. Instead, it’s that ornery daily choice I make to love myself, thighs and all, no matter what.

 

[1]    It’s a safe bet that if you follow me on the internet, you could break your life down with the same anecdotes. That’s what puts us in the same tribe. Please know that any feelings you have about those anecdotes (sad, overwhelmed, annoyed, angry, etc.) are completely valid. It’s what you do with the feelings that matter.

[2]   To clarify, the word ornery is used a little differently in the Midwest. It means having or showing a playful tendency to cause trouble or mischief.

 

[3]  He is a few years older than me, and going to the prom with someone who had already graduated was against the rules in my small conservative town. Think Footloose, but without the impromptu barn dances.

 

As always, please share your own stories in the comment section or message me jaci@jaciblue.com.  I recently described my writing to a friend as a "look at my mess and identify" type of healing. It is my experience that identifying with someone's "mess" and then speaking your truth out loud relieves years of shame.




Jaclyn McCabe
Jaclyn McCabe

Author




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