It’s rare to hear a woman say her thighs are her favourite part of her body.
She might think her stomach is alright, her face fine but her thighs are rarely something she wants to shout about.
As a snowboarder, surfer and general outdoors lover, my thighs are big. Chunky even. They've always been this way. When I was a child, an Italian man told me my legs looked like a leg of ham. Literally, a fat leg of ham.
Last week, I was ploughing through fresh powder on the mountain, charging down the slope until my thighs ached, the last thing on my mind was whether my legs were going to bulge in my jeans tomorrow.
But that's not always been the case. We recently came across this excellent article on Outdoor Women's Alliance and it got us thinking about our own 'thunder thighs'.
When you think of ‘thunder thighs’, it’s always the negative connotations that come to mind. T-Rex style legs jiggling and slapping together, creating earthquakes beneath you or trashy magazines chastising celebrities for their ‘thunder thighs’. When do you ever hear the term used in a good context?
Whether you’re into snowboarding or climbing or long-distance running, naturally you’re going to develop bigger, muscular thighs. Stick-thin legs just don’t cut it. You need muscle to move, to push yourself harder.
So why do active women worry that their thighs are 'too big'? Should we be concerned that we physically can't develop the much-desired thigh gap?
The Thigh Gap Debate
When I asked Twitter why they think women shouldn’t stress about their 'thunder thighs', a friend replied “because the whole thigh gap thing is complete bullsh*t?"
She’s right. It totally is bullsh*t. When did it become desirable to have a gap between your thighs? What does is signify?
When you see catwalk models with a thigh gap big enough to fit a toaster in wearing swimwear, it shouldn’t make you feel bad about yourself.
Strong legs give you increased endurance, less risk of injury, plus allow you to ski harder, surf longer or even party harder!
Yes, some of us have thin legs. Others of us have chunkier ones. My point is we shouldn’t aspire look a certain way that doesn’t come naturally to our bodies.
It’s interesting that a lot of this stems from clothing. “My thighs look fat in these jeans" is something you hear bandied around women’s changing rooms a lot.
It’s demotivating when you try on a new pair of shorts – and they cut into your thighs. You sit there thinking, I work out, I do yoga, I swim, I surf, I climb. So why can’t I fit into these shorts?
It's because it's not a fat thing. It's muscle - and this is vital for anyone who explores the outdoors.
"Developed leg muscles produce the most energy based on their size," says Katie Ambridge, a personal trainer from Heart & Core. "This gives you increased endurance and less risk of injury, plus allows you to ski harder, surf longer or even party harder!"
Why Are We Worried?
"I definitely don't think women should worry," says Esme, a keen runner from Newquay. “I want my legs to be as strong as possible so I can perform at my best. If that means they get big, then so be it!"
"Thunder thighs are definitely a good thing," says Bronwen, a triathlete from London. "Why would anyone want weak, spindly legs?"
Meanwhile Mary, a skier and regular gym goer, isn’t so sure. “I know that the ‘thigh-gap’ is a stupid, unrealistic body image to aim for, but being fairly slim on my top half I feel disproportionate if I feel my legs start to get a bit chunky."
She concedes that if her thighs touched all the time, she would feel they had gotten “too big". “I wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing the clothes I love when I’m not exercising - like slim-fit jeans, skirts and shorts."
Body image concerns affect all kinds of women, even professional athletes. Olympic swimmer Rebecca Adlington publicly broke down in tears after reading nasty comments about her appearance online.
"As an athlete, you always look on your body as your power," she told The Guardian. “I never looked at it thinking: 'Am I feminine? Am I girly? Do I have the right clothes?'"
Poolside, instead of thinking, 'Hasn't she got a nice bum or boobs?', we'd be thinking, 'Oh my God, she is in shape. She looks like she's going to tear it up.'"
When she was suddenly offered up to public scrutiny after the Olympics, the online trolls started pouring in. Now Adlington says, "I do not ever read the [online] comments. Do not scroll down… They're just always all horrible."
Most of us aren't going to stop doing what we love because it makes our thighs more muscly
Downhill mountain bike racer Amanda Batty revealed here how a male commentator felt the need to draw attention to her legs after her shorts were left awkwardly skewed following a US national race.
What surprised Batty most from the whole episode is that the general public and members of the action sports industry really do believe female athletes should look like models displayed in adverts.
"Sexy bodies reflect commitment to fitness, but anyone can just go out and exercise. Training for and excelling at a sport requires dedication to a long-term vision of success, and a strong body often looks much different than a 'sexy' body," she wrote on Pink Bike.
So What's The Answer?
Ultimately, everyone has a different body shape and we shouldn’t feel pressure to conform to what fashion, the media, puts forward as the ideal shape. It’s a personal thing.
The truth is most of us aren't going to stop doing what we love because it makes our thighs more muscly. Maybe we won't fit into those super-tight skinny jeans, but who cares?
As one reader Catherine Sarsfield said to us, "Muscles are a sign of strength. We shouldn't try and change our bodies to make them weaker!"
If you run, you want strong legs to carry you further with more ease. If you climb, you need muscular thighs to help you reach that next hold. If you snowboard, you won’t be able to ride knee-deep powder without those hefty mammas.
So next time you look down and start wishing those thighs were different, stop yourself. I would rather have big, strong thighs that help me climb mountains and surf with strength than sit there worrying about how they look in jeans any day.