If you’re female and over the age of 8, then the answer is probably ‘yes’.
Recently I was drawn into a conversation about whether or not one lady’s bare legs (in a fun, kitsch stage costume) were appropriate to be seen by children. I couldn’t quite believe that this had to be discussed.
‘What’ I asked ‘was the issue?’.
I had seen her previous performance. Upsettingly I found myself having to relay a detailed description about this lady’s body, scrutinising her form so we could make judgements about its decency. I won’t include my observations here, I found it uncomfortable, base, disrespectful and actually, I discovered, pointless. Running through the possible reasons people may take offence and hypothetically replacing those legs with others, I wanted to see if there was any justification for concern.
Firstly, was this a sexualised performance? No. Given the performer’s age and the nature of the ensemble, her look was part of their schtick; fun, slightly absurd, themed, you get the picture. They were a theatrical spectacle. No children were in danger of corruption or put in a sexualised environment. There was no way this lady took herself seriously, was trying to appear sexy, or was ‘flaunting’ her body in any way (if that’s even a problem).
Was it an ‘immodest’ image? The old fashioned case for moral propriety, where everyone should remain modest for modesty’s sake, is currently being broken apart. The idea that too much flesh on show should be considered as a distraction to heterosexual men, or that it is an invitation for sexual advances, or that it implies sexual promiscuity from the barer of bare legs, is outdated and wrong. Morally, no problem here then either.
Does age factor into how legs are viewed? Yes, and surprisingly all ages are considered inappropriate for one reason or another. Our society views old legs as obscene; who wants to see that? Young legs, however, are more like our beauty ‘ideal’ that the media has conditioned us to admire. We want to see young legs on show, just like the images of women we objectify on a daily basis when they sell us shaving products, fashion, reality TV, pop music and porn. But our learnt objectification of visible young legs would have made it a ‘sexualised’ performance under society’s current standards. It would even attract the labels of attention seeker, asking for judgement, or using appeal to seduce and draw in the audience. So any age legs are a no go.
Does the size of legs matter? Yes, for a number of reasons. And again, nowhere on the spectrum is safe from criticism. On the larger side, the exposition of cellulite is apparently too much for some to cope with. Any ‘overexposure’ of flesh, is seen as an ‘eyeful’. She’s brave. Put it away love. We really don’t want to see that. And skinny legged ladies attract jealousy, the opinion that the attached person is showing off, vying for our husbands’ attention, or ‘flaunting’ their sexuality.
The point about courage here is an eye opening one. We are brave when we dare to bare without conforming to today’s beauty standards. We open ourselves up to public humiliation, whispers of dissatisfaction, disgust, disbelief that we could be so bold as to look a little different. This is the everyday body shaming that we endure, born from our own insecurities, from within our own communities, within our own muddled thoughts.
We have become accustomed to seeing size 6 mannequin legs so toned they show no sign of flesh, but so slim they show no sign of muscle.
Our Instagram feeds are flooded with ‘hotdog legs’ but none like mine, already in their buns.
Why can’t we accept legs just as legs? Fat, thin, long, short, wobbly or athletic. Who cares?
Society’s interpretation of body image is at the point where using a factual description of my thighs; soft, rounded and uneven in contour, sounds like I’m being self deprecating. I’m not. By the way, they’re also long, strong, fully functioning limbs. Limbs that have carried me through life so far; that have walked me into university and places of work, that have danced, that ache after exercise, that have helped rock my children to sleep, that hold me tall, that curl into my chest when I need comfort.
But until we can change our inner perceptions about the beauty of a healthy pair of legs we are forced to feel that seeing them bare is indecent. I only hope this can be addressed by us all now and that I won’t need to tell my daughter, the next generation, to cover her legs in order to protect her from any kind of degradation or harm.