I had a physical therapy appointment this week, got new instructions on how to properly build muscles in my legs. My therapist’s parting words were, “when you stand up, don’t have your knees together. You’ll want to keep them shoulder width apart.” I’m sure he thought this was a simple trick to help build muscle in my legs, but for me it was revolutionary.
As a girl, from the second you start wearing dresses you are told to keep your legs together. Standing, sitting, reclining, legs should be together. I remember when I found out that the ladylike crossed legs position wasn’t good for blood flow. I felt irritated that I’d have to instead keep my knees together because it took so much more energy and focus then simply crossing your legs.
When you get a hip replaced these instructions are even more seriously followed and you learn not to cross your legs at all because it’s bad for the replaced joint. But it wasn’t until today that I realized that sitting like a lady was bad for me either way, replacement or not.
My first reaction to my physical therapist’s announcement was “It’s going to look so indiscreet if I’m wearing a dress! And it’s going to look so mannish if I’m in pants!” Can you believe this was my very first reaction to my therapist’s simple advice? How would it look to someone else. I hadn’t realized how ingrained my concepts of femininity were with my every day movements.
In my head the concept of femininity was the overriding value — at least initially — trumping my own health and mobility.
Of course, that’s not really foreign to women, is it? How often do women, in search of beauty or femininity, harm their own bodies? We could go all the way back to ancient practices of foot binding or killer makeup made with mercury, but that isn’t necessary. Hair removal fits the bill nicely, given that hair is a protective layer on every human body, particularly around the pubic area, and that hair removal can and often does lead to infection. We could talk about risky surgeries people undergo to modify their appearance, or eating disorders.
The quest for femininity and beauty doesn’t have to be toxic, but we continue to make it that way ourselves. We often sacrifice our own health and well-being for the fleeting sensation of physical perfection, or the approval of others.
To be honest with you, for me, losing muscle around my legs is too high a cost for being ladylike. Maybe I won’t come off as refined at the next cocktail party, but I’ll certainly be a lot more comfortable.