I’ve hated my legs for as long as I can remember. It started back when I was about 12. I was sat in the back of the car with my best friend talking about the kind of things that seem to matter when you’re 12 (but really don’t matter at all) and for some reason I happened to notice the size of her thighs. While mine were happily spread out wide as my body weight pushed them down, filling my entire seat like a giant denim-encased pear, her thighs seemed tiny – like literally the size of my calves before I applied any pressure to them. I found myself looking from her legs to mine, feeling increasingly worse, then we dropped her off at her house. All the way home my dad chatted to me and I smiled, but I kept looking at my legs wondering why mine were just so much bigger.
Now don’t read this wrong – I wasn’t an overweight child, but my legs have always been on the sturdy side. ‘Shapely’ my mum used to say as I got older, offering me helpful words of encouragement like: ‘women would kill for shapely legs like yours’. But for all she tried to convince me I couldn’t help but wonder why I didn’t feel the same when I compared my legs to others?
Since then I’ve always had a pet peeve about my pins. Always tried to cover them up, wear black (it’s slimming you know) and find myself hanging my head in shame when I pass a billboard with an impossibly skinny (and Photoshopped) model on them. Don’t get me wrong I’m not a body-hating, diet obsessed, kind of a girl, but whenever I’ve looked at photos of me I find myself checking out my legs and wincing at how wide they look.
But in the last couple of weeks something happened that made me realise just how wrong I’d been all this time. I was working at the office, pulling together a magazine for a client, and came across an interview with a man called Spencer West. It was all about how he was a motivational speaker, had climbed Kilimanjaro, blah, blah, blah, and then, just as I was about to write it off as another inspiring but much-heard story I caught sight of his picture. Something was missing. Not just his legs but his entire body from the waist down.
I found myself captivated – a sudden flood of questions shooting into my head: How did it happen? How much of him is left? And more to the point – how on earth did he climb Kilimanjaro?
It was that point that I fell down the Google wormhole. Turns out the answers were: he had a severe spine deformity as a child, had his legs amputated from the pelvis down and climbed Africa’s highest mountain using his hands, crawling on the ground. I was struck dumb with respect and awe.
A few days later I went back to Wales to see my dad who lives near Snowdonia National Park. On my last day I woke early and – as is usual when I go to see him – headed out into the mountains before returning to the flatlands down south. I jumped out of the car as I usually do and set about walking up the peak, battling through the wind and rain as I went. Along the way I ran into some particularly tricky ground. Made slick from the downfall, it took all the strength I had to push myself up and over rocks that had been turned black from the water. Then, when I finally reached the top of them, it was one last push to the summit. By this point my legs were tingling, working hard to propel me to my goal.
As I stood gloriously on the trig point, scanning the mountainous panorama that fell at my feet like a crumpled blanket of russet, gold and pewter, I caught sight of my thighs. Now throbbing from the reprieve of stopping, the looked pretty much the same as they always did; a little bit wobbly, a little bit wide, but this time I didn’t hate them. Not one little bit. It was because of my imperfect legs that I'd got here – over obstacles, around boulders and onto this the most perfect perspective you could find.
From this point on, thanks to Spencer’s unknowing inspiration, I really love my legs. And you should love yours too.