It’s a rare sight to see me in shorts. I gave them up when I was in third grade. At 8 years old, I noticed my thighs jiggled more than the other girls. And in a culture that taught me all things fat were gross, they needed to be hidden at all times. My family called it baby fat, so I figured they’d slim down in time, especially because I had already started dieting and exercising. But in middle school, when I became one of the first girls in sixth-grade to get her period, they just grew bigger. While all the girls around me in sunny Orlando, Fla. showed off their scraggy, prepubescent arms and legs in spaghetti-strap tops and barely-there, overpriced Abercrombie and Fitch shorts, I hid all the wobbly parts of my too-soon voluptuous cuerpo with sweatshirts and sweatpants, even under the burning sun. Hip-hop videos told me my body was desirable, so I couldn’t wait to be in my 20s, when my thick thighs and hips would spark allure rather than disgust. But by the time that decade hit, I had been about 10 years into an eating disorder, one that told me I was unworthy regardless of my pants size.
As I sought recovery, seeing a therapist and building a community of ED warriors, I started treating my body better, but my overall feelings toward my figure, including my thighs, didn’t shift a whole bunch. Shorts and bathing suits were still absent from my wardrobe. While I appreciated the way jeans and long, form-fitting dresses hugged on to my curves, I wasn’t about to bare my trembling, cellulite-laden thighs in shorts or mini skirts. Even in a Puerto Rican family that taught me my piernas, these rumbling muslos, were a blessing, an asset I should flaunt, and with an ex who literally worshipped their thundering glory, I couldn’t have this “grotesque flaw” on full display. The problem wasn’t that they were big. All the women I have always considered the most beautiful had an abundance of meat on their thighs. The issue was that, unlike theirs, mine had cellulite, was accompanied by also-fat calves and looked very odd above my size 3 feet and on my barely 5’0’’ body.
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Last summer, before embarking on a two-month trip to Puerto Rico, I decided to make some uncomfortable purchases: bathing suits and shorts. On a path to self-love and self-growth, it was time to conquer this garment battle — and I realized I’ve been looking even more ridiculous wearing jeans and sneakers to the beach all these years. Showing my thighs, especially on an island that gave us beauties like Jennifer Lopez and Joan Smalls, brought a whirlwind of emotions. Mostly anxiety, sometimes self-hate but other moments a sexiness I had recalled in the women from the music videos I aspired to so many years ago.
My thighs remain a battle. If I’m home in shorts and I’m expecting a visitor, I usually run to change into pants before greeting them. Yet, increasingly, I find myself ogling at them in the mirror, in photos and window reflections, not because I hate what I see but rather because they make me feel like a badass bitch, all thick, roaring and passionate the way they tremble while taking up space.
While my complicated relationship with my thighs feels lonely from time to time, it’s far from unique. So many Latinas are working through long-toxic ties with our bodies, and for many of us, this starts with our thighs. Living within at least two cultures whose beauty ideals, particularly when it comes to curves, clash, our muslos, whether they’re fat, skinny, hairy or scarred, are sometimes the site of our biggest body wars. Here, six Latinas and Latinx femmes open up about their complex relationships with their thighs.
1. Andrea Lausell, 26, Los Angeles
When I was really young, I liked my thighs. I used to swim every day, so they were very strong. I felt I was unstoppable. This was before a back surgery left me with nerve damage that made me lose feeling in my feet and some areas of my legs, particularly my thighs. I started losing muscle and had trouble getting it back. They started to look odd to me. They were the fattest part of my overall petite body. I felt like they weren’t mine, that they were something foreign attached to my body. Unable to build muscle, I decided I would try to just lose the fat. In high school, I would starve myself a few days out of the week, hoping that my body would eat the fat from my thighs. It never worked. I began hiding them the best way I could, wearing maxi dresses or black leggings. This continued into my mid-twenties. Not so long ago, in 2018, I started medication for my Spina Bifida, my disability that affects my spine. For the first time in a long time, I felt great and wanted to work out to build strength. I started taking physical therapy, Soul Cycle and some yoga classes, and noticed that my thighs were looking more robust. My physical therapist told me that my thighs were strong, but they’ll probably not show a lot of muscle ever again. Still, hearing that made me happy that they didn’t abandon me the way I always thought they did. They were gaining muscle, just in different areas and in places where I couldn’t feel them. But when I touched them with my hands, I noticed their growing vigor. This has helped my relationship with my thighs, but it still remains difficult. It’s hard not to compare them to others, especially living in LA, where my thighs don’t meet the long, thin standard of beauty. I still cringe when I see them reflected in windows and usually crop them out of photos because I don’t want people to see the damage my disability has caused them. But I’m trying every day to feel (pun intended) connected to them and keep them strong. I speak kindly to them and stick to an exercise routine that works for me. I hope in the process, I learn to love them without any more doubt.
2. Elisabet Velasquez, 35, Brooklyn, New York
I was raised in a religion where we were required to keep our legs covered at all times. From a young age, I was taught that my thighs should be hidden and I listened, concealing them even from myself. Because relationships require nurturing, attention and love, the one with my thighs were for a long time unhealthy. Whenever I did look at my thighs, they seemed so foreign. They did not look like anything I had ever seen. My body type was not represented anywhere. Where were the thighs with stretch marks? Where were the thighs that didn’t stop dancing even long after the rest of your body did? The funny thing about messages is that if you don’t get any — that too is a message. My thought process at the time was that there clearly must have been something wrong with them. To “fix” them, I went to extremes to try and diet my way into thin thighs. Never working, I always found myself behind long skirts and loose-fitting clothes. But one day, I just decided to stop waiting for validation. This was an intentional shift in every major part of my life. Not just my thighs, though they certainly benefited. I made decisions to give myself permission to be beautiful in whatever way I wanted beauty to be defined for me. I also left that church and made my body a church, which meant I got to learn how to worship my thighs and any other part of my body. How powerful to make your body equal parts God, the altar and the praise. I realized that for so many years I was only uncomfortable with my body because other people were. I treated my body based on how people who were offended by it treated me. I am no longer about anyone else’s comfort but mine. Recently, I spent two summers intentionally wearing nothing but short shorts and short dresses. I wanted to see my thighs. I wanted to get to know them. At first, It was uncomfortable because I was building a relationship with my body from scratch and I had to be forgiving with myself. This required an openness to vulnerability. This meant pushing through stares and sometimes negative or unwanted comments. But it’s been life-changing. Today, the only thing frustrating about my legs is the difficulty I have finding thigh-high boots that fit. Once I find those, I’m having a whole photoshoot. Issa wrap!
3. Monica Bocanegra, 29, Sacramento
My thighs and I have had a difficult relationship. They caused me emotional pain at times. My hairy thighs and I hid behind pom-poms during cheer and concealed ourselves under sweatpants in 110 degree-weather as a kid. I disassociated my thick hairy thighs from my body. Full-length mirrors where avoided, making me anxious most of the time. I was a child when I started dieting, hoping they would look small. I longed to be able to wear shorts or skirts. It didn’t help that at family gatherings all the tias or vecinas talked about was weight and fatness, particularly as something that was less desired. It’s been 20 years since I can remember disowning my thighs, mis piernas. Now the relationship between my thighs has evolved. As a femme Latinx person, I am the owner of these strong, hairy, thick beautiful piernas. My thighs no longer own me. Following Instagram accounts where bodies and thighs like mine are celebrated has helped. Opposite action, where I do the opposite of what I am inclined to do, such as wear dresses, skirts, taking photos of mis piernas, even when I just want to hide them, has also allowed me to develop a healthier connection with them. Like any relationship, it’s something I must nourish consistently. Ultimately, son mine, my beautiful gorditas, peludas, strong thighs.
4. Joanna Cifredo, 31, Brooklyn, New York
When I was young, I was, for a lack of better words, a boy. My idea of femininity came from my mother, who was very curvy. I thought that curves equalled femininity and, therefore, curves were the equivalent to womanhood. The way my mom danced as a child, the beats and rhythms, they all celebrated curves. I transitioned after puberty, and in cases like mine, your body shape doesn’t change that much. I remained super skinny with very narrow thighs, nothing like my mother’s display of womanhood. It bothered me, a lot. I considered silicone injections, but I ultimately didn’t follow through because many people warned against it. Things began to shift when I started hormones. It was like going through puberty all over again. My thighs touched and jiggled when I walked down the stairs. I felt feminine. I felt like me. I’m now 31 and still struggle with my weight. I sometimes wish I had a little more here and a little less there. But, overall, I’m feeling good about my shape. At this point, I just want to enjoy life. I’m still cute even if I’m not perfect.
5. Cinthya Rodriguez, 24, Chicago
When I was born, my tia would accompany my mom to my doctor check-ups. During those visits, everyone always thought I was my aunt’s daughter—and my mom and tia played along. It’s funny how everyone in the same family can be shaped so different. My mom’s pretty petite, and somehow I came out caderona, nalgona y piernuda, like my favorite tia. My mom would always joke that she has less nalgas y piernas because my little sister and me se las robamos when we were born. And it’s a joke, until you’re 10 years old at the mall and jeans won’t go up your thighs and they don’t fit right and it’s hours later and you just want to go home and never look at your thighs in the mirror again. When I was in high school, I would look at pictures of myself and think, damn, why do I have these thighs? I grew up staring at their big shape. I’d look at my friends, and mine were usually double the size of theirs. I’d always take mental note of that, whether it was comparing pictures on Facebook or fixating on the mirror during dance practices. I’m 4’ 10’’, so my big thighs are even more pronounced. I thought it was something about myself that only my family and I were aware of. Until I knew that it wasn’t. Friends’ moms growing up would recognize me walking down the street because of my thighs, me conocian como la amiga piernuda. At that point, I started to show off my thighs all the time because I was beginning to reconcile my feelings about my thighs. I was faking that love for my thighs, faking it until I made it. Today, I write about my thighs with love because they’re my inheritance. I come from many thick, stubborn, but loving, women—León women, my mom reminds me. I got this body from my dad’s family, too, even if I tend to forget it. I still stare at pictures where I squat or kneel to see how much space my thighs take up. But I try every day to honor them more and more.
6. Paula Mota, 27, Northern California
When I was a child, my thighs were basically insignificant. This changed once puberty hit, and my skinny legs began to grow plump. As my thighs forced my skin to expand quickly, I started getting stretch marks. At the time, I was also experiencing some allergic reactions to certain foods I was eating and I was breaking out on my legs. This left me with scars. My thighs, fat and with cellulite, stretch marks and blemishes, became significant, and I spent a lot of my years covering them up with clothes and expensive visits to the dermatologist. I took several medications to lighten the scars and tried so many different fading creams and skin tightening creams. I exercised and lifted weights to reduce the cellulite. I changed my diet. Nothing worked. So I continued to wear pants all the time, even during blistering summers. In my early 20s, as a college student living in LA, my friends questioned my clothing choices, and encouraged me to show some skin, particularly my thick thighs that they expressed admiration toward. With their help, I started embracing my family nickname, “piernuda,” and started buying and wearing mini-skirts, shorts and bathing suits without cover-up. My relationship with my thighs is complicated at best. I can still see the scars. I can still see the cellulite. I can still see the stretch marks. Yet, there are days that I absolutely love them just as they are. But there remains times, particularly when they’re the center of attention, that I feel anxiety, turning flushed because of how insecure they still make me feel.