Can you make it with big legs?

You’re so fit. You’ve got strong legs. Do you work out?

I get those comments a lot and maybe in a “normal” person’s head, or in an “empowered woman’s mind”, they would own those “affirmations” and feel really good/proud/happy. When I get those comments, this is what I hear:

You are not skinny. Those legs…yikesSSSSSS. You are so average-sized.

You might judge me and think I have no grounds to complain. Whatever. You're not in my head. You're not in the dressing room with me. We all have our inner demons. I have spent my whole life struggling with body image, most of us have, especially females. There’s a standard of beauty that is plastered all over magazines, internet and in our daily conversations. Being Asian and growing up in America gave me a very confused mapping of beauty. To be a beautiful Asian, I should be skinny, pale and smiley. To be a beautiful “American”, I should not be Asian, fail, I should have a nice bridge on my nose, thought about plastic surgery, and I should make heads turn, I get random cat calls from sketchy people. I didn’t know how to be beautiful, so I just did everything to get to this idea of it.

I am acquainted with many diets: Whole 30, journaling, apps, Master Cleanse, only coffee, Paleo, Atkins, Binge & Starve, don’t eat after 5pm, only eat after 5pm, only eat fruits, never eat fruits, only eat lemons, "be happy and eat"...

I have fallen prey to many diet fads: green tea pill, Hydroxycut family of pills, apple cider vinegar, pills.

I have spent hours googling: How can I get my legs to shrink? Are calves genetic? Are there safe surgeries to make fat genetic calves go away? Do people like women with big legs? Can you be famous with big legs?

I don't look in the mirror and immediately think, damn girl. But every time I look in the mirror, I know I have a choice to make. Only recently have I been able to look, breathe and think how what I see in front of me is the exact me I need to be right now. I look at my legs. My mom has the same legs. She worked in the farms, she worked in the factories, she is a hard working woman. My legs remind me of my mom. My arms are big and dark. My dad is darker than most Chinese people. He cooks in the kitchen for 12 hours a day and even though he’s so skinny from all the cigarettes, he’s got definition. My arms and my color remind me of my dad. My round face reminds me of how I am Asian and how God specifically and uniquely created certain people to have certain features. I have a round face and that reminds me of God’s diverse creations and how even though I am here in New York or Los Angeles, I am somehow connected to a lot, a lot of the world. 

I carry in my body, this imperfect, scarred but sometimes soft body, (I do give myself that - I have very soft skin), my history, my cultures, and the breaking of what should be. I am not skinny, and I am beautiful. I am not pale, and I am beautiful. I don’t always smile, and I am beautiful even when I am sad. I might be more beautiful when I'm sad but stand still without smiling.

I don’t feel "small" like someone can easily pick me up. I get nervous that I look like Pillsbury dough boy on the screen because the camera is unforgiving like that. I still want to be skinny, but I can’t stop eating chips and salsa. I just can’t because the crunch, the salt, the margaritas are too damn good. I'm already thinking of my next happy hour.

I am working on respecting the “strong” that is my body. I am working on owning “strong.” When I see other women who are strong and fit, I think they are so beautiful and so powerful. Why can’t I afford that same grace to myself?

I am strong.

Maybe my body is a beautiful gift from God to remind me every day that I don’t fit into some standard and that’s special. 

I am beautiful because I breathe. 

Nancy Ma