Learning to Love My Yams
I got thighs.
The kind that will never really give me a thigh gap unless I spend weeks doing straight cardio, eating kale and apple slices and nothing else.
My Dominican mom gave me thighs, and then she gave my sister bigger thighs, and so between the two of us, there are a lot of ruined jeans, with holes where our thighs rubbed. I now buy pants that I really like with a sense of dread; they’ll only live for so long. They’re guaranteed a slow death if I buy them. And so I feel guilty that I’m taking them home, only to accidentally shred them by walking around.
I remember my grandmother applying lotion to my legs when I was in elementary school. I didn’t know that I had heat blisters from the chafing until I had taken a bath that night and said that the soap hurt me.
“Sancochaste las batatas,” she said. Your cooked your yams.
I remember being jealous of the chicken-legged girls in the locker room during high school. They didn’t jiggle. Their legs were smooth and pale and skinny, and when they stood up straight, there was a slight space, which meant that they didn’t chafe when they wore dresses or skirts during the summer.
I remember trying baby powder and body oils, but they’d only last for so long. And then I’d half-waddle home to put shorts under my dress to avoid inflaming my skin. I remember running home and plopping down on my bed. My sister asked me why I was walking bowlegged. I fanned my thighs with a book, and she silently handed me a small tube of lotion that I applied to my stinging skin.
A distant cousin calls her thighs pernils, aka the large baked pork shoulders that people eat in the Caribbean for holidays and special events. I grew up around thunder thighs and complaints about pants splitting at the seam. I’ve busted out of pants by stretching the wrong way. It’s why I rarely wear jeans anymore. I like joggers made of loose materials or jeans that aren’t jeans but actually jeggings. Tights are the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
It was supposed to be pretty cute to have thighs whenever I was with other women of color. Selena and JLo were my queens. So were the curvy women on the cover of the “urban” novels that were sold on the street by Union Square. I wanted to buy one when I was around fourteen, but the vendor said:
“You’re too young, baby, come back in a few years.”
He refused to tell me what the novels were about.
I’d watch music videos from Latin America and hip-hop videos on television when my parents weren’t looking, and I’d wonder how the dancers didn’t chafe. Did they have racks of body oil and baby powders?
(This was before I read a blog post from a stripper and learned that you had to rub a scentless deodorant or antiperspirant on either leg to stop the chub rub.)
American music videos seemed to like midriffs. There were scenes in television shows and movies where actresses asked each other if their butts looked too big in a certain dress or pair of pants.
“She’s so skinny,” my mom said during one of the scenes. “Why does she want her legs to be so small?”
The friend told her that her butt and her legs weren’t big, and the other actress squealed in delight. I looked down at my legs and cringed. My body was nothing like hers.
Mainstream American magazines and movies before the mid-2000s focused on flat stomachs and boobs. I didn’t have either. I still don’t. But I got thighs. And now they’re in the music videos, and on Kardashians, and on what an old friend problematically called “Instagram thots.” A friend complimented my thighs, and I had to explain that I’m “Caribbean average” and soon to be “American average” if people keep announcing squat challenges and booty implants on social media like they would announce a new job offer or going on vacation.
I’m still self-conscious when I shop though. I don’t even attempt to buy pants in bougie areas where the mannequins don’t have thighs. I compare the circumference of my thighs to those of the women in the free yoga classes I attend.
And I still feel awkward in my body sometimes. I’m not sure what it should be or what’s acceptable for it to look like. I feel scrawny compared to all the people with injections and augmentations on social media. But I also feel very self-conscious in offices where there aren’t many women of color and catch myself comparing myself to them. I try sitting in different ways to see which one will make me look smaller. Other days, I splay out in a seat and I don’t give a damn who sees or what they think about me.
I like how they’re everywhere. I like that the jiggle is the norm. Instagram and YouTube have shown me four different ways to do squats and a billion for lunges. There are before-and-after photos of people going from skinny-legged to thicc. It reminds me of the time when gringolandia discovered avocados. It built up over years and reached a tipping point during a commercial for the 2012 Olympics where athletes called it a superfood. Soon after, avocado toast became a thing, even though so many communities have been eating it forever.
And like with the awakening to the fact that avocados are amazing, I am both conflicted and also appreciative that the larger public now understands how awesome thighs are. I’m a little jealous of people who came into it because of popular culture but were slim teenagers or kids back when it was super-popular. They didn’t have to feel as out of place, or wear themselves down doing jumping jacks in their bedrooms to see if they could look like a blonde Hollywood star. I still cringe when thickness on more Eurocentric-looking women of color is overly celebrated as compared to darker African American women and Latinas, who are still stereotyped. It’s as if thickness became something positive the moment it became mainstream and connected to lighter women. More “socially acceptable” women. It should be celebrated on every woman regardless of what her background is.
Despite that, I appreciate my legs now. Women are taking up space in the world and putting in the gym hours to do it. They’re growing out, not in. They’re celebrating having to buy bigger pants, which used to mortify me as a preteen. My thighs help me kick bags during workouts; they help me jog and run up and down subway stairs. They look nice in athleisure (another gringolandia discovery in recent years). I’m glad to have a growing sisterhood of thighs who have also accepted that their pants won’t make it through the year. I’m proud of my “batatas” — they take bumps and bruises and keep going.
*Angely Mercado is a troglodyte from NYC who writes things. Her work is in BK Based, NPR, City Limits, IJNET, and Hello Giggles. Hire her.*