It’s no secret that media in our culture has had a huge, sometimes crushing effect on young women’s self images. (I like to think that this is changing for girls today, but I also like to think that I look pretty much as I did at thirty-four, so…)

Regardless of what I fear will be eternal pressure on young women to be “perfect,” I believe that some progress has been made, because as far as I know, one particularly brutal source of self-loathing has become obsolete: the scourge known as “Body Mechanics.”

This class, offered as a section of P.E at my high school, was even more powerful than the Cosmopolitan cover photos of  the ’60’s, Farrah Fawcett and Cheryl Tiegs’ iconic posters of  the 70’s, and the ZZ Top video girls in the 80’s, in the erosion of my self-confidence.

Taught by the progenitor (progenitress?) of Sue Sylvester on “Glee,” ostensibly about fitness, the class involved various unnatural contortions. (Which prompted an exclamation of “What am I, Gumby?” from  Melanie, later pronounced Most Witty of her senior class.) The “exercises” hurt, but the true pain came from a single sheet of paper, containing “Ideal Measurements.” At that point in my life, I, a Chronic People Pleaser, took that sort of thing to heart.

It was all laid out: ideal bust, waist, hip, etc. I don’t remember all of the desired measurements. I do remember feeling that the waist was within range.  The bust might show up someday. I could wait. But the thigh? That specific ideal measurement remains with me to this day. Twenty inches. That was simply not going to happen; in polite terms, I have “athletic thighs.” At my absolute stone cold skinniest, we were looking at twenty-two.  And my calves and ankles? Please. I fear I am from Peasant Stock.

If all that wasn’t bad enough, I learned that I had TIBIAL TORTION. (one knee sort of twisted in toward the other. The Horror.)

I hate to admit how much all of this bothered me. I hate to think how much time I wasted feeling bad about myself. I really hate to admit how long it took me to consider that it might not be rational to expect a woman of 5’10” (for that was my height in those days) to share a thigh measurement with someone six inches shorter.

I am happy to admit that I don’t remember the last time I measured my thigh. I am happy to have come to terms with my cankles and tibial tortion. I am happy that I can easily walk for miles at a time, and still kick higher than my head.

I am sad to hear The Kid berate herself for perceived flaws in her own lovely body. I am doing my best to dispel her concerns; let this craziness end with my generation.

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