The only reason I identify with Hilary Clinton
January 17, 2008 8:05 PM   Subscribe

Please help me make my legs not disgusting.

I hate hate hate my legs

Everywhere north of my belly button, I am really thin and toned (to the point where I get "You are eating, right?" comments).

But unfortunately, I have some of the most awful looking legs in the world. Thick thighs, doughy kneecaps, chunky calves, and, if that wasn't enough, really bad cankles.

If I wear jeans or long skirts (and they are all I ever do wear), I look pretty damn good, but god forbid I wear something that shows even a little stretch of leg.

I want to wear a swimsuit proudly, I want to not freak out about getting naked with a guy. And summer is coming again soon.

Look, I've accepted that I'll never be a pantyhose model but I am convinced there must be a way to get my legs looking nice.

I need practical suggestions on how to get my legs looking good for summer. I'm mainly concerned about my kneecaps, chunky calves, and cankles. I can't afford surgery, but I have a lot of willpower and motivation, and I will try any diet, exercise, and creams or potions that might work.

I know certain kinds of exericse will help, but I absolutely do not want to do anything that will build the muscle on my calves in a way that it will make them chunkier! how can I avoid that?

I'm assuming nothing can be done about my cankles, they are all skin and bone and it seems there is not fat around them I could work off. But if I could get firm bony kneecaps and moderately slender calves, I'd be stoked.

Thank you so much!
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Do others agree that your legs are "chunky?" I'm wondering if your perceptions are accurate.
posted by salvia at 8:09 PM on January 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

(Ref. for anyone else who doesn't know the word cankles.)
posted by salvia at 8:11 PM on January 17, 2008

I know certain kinds of exericse will help, but I absolutely do not want to do anything that will build the muscle on my calves in a way that it will make them chunkier! how can I avoid that?

You can't lose weight in your ankles, but you can build muscle in your calves to make your ankles look thinner in comparison. I'd start adding lots of calf raises to your workout routine.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:18 PM on January 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: 1. Cut Body Fat
Do a low-glycemic diet relatively low in carbs, like The Zone. Cut out grains, fill in with vegetables. Do High Intensity Interval Training--HIIT. You can find programs on line or simply alternate periods of normal intensity cardio with periods of sprinting.

2. Build Leg Muscle
This will help significantly with shaping your leg and toning it, as well as perking up the butt area and making your legs seem longer as a result. Squats. Lunges. More squats. It is unlikely you will build enough muscle by summer that the size of your legs will remain the same, unless you are eating to build lots of muscle. And you won't be, since you'll be dieting to lose the body fat.
posted by Anonymous at 8:18 PM on January 17, 2008

Response by poster: Crap, just noticed you're thin and toned on top--so this is assuming you don't have body fat to lose. OK, well, then just do the squats and lunges. Seriously, I think many women underestimate the shaping power of a little muscle.
posted by Anonymous at 8:19 PM on January 17, 2008

do you notice a difference in your cankles when you eat particularly salty foods or if you're otherwise retaining water due to pms? try reducing your sodium intake for a few days, prop your feet up and massage your legs (upwards, towards your heart). see if it makes any difference.
posted by buka at 8:27 PM on January 17, 2008

When you lose weight, you lose weight all over. Fat doesn't care where it's stored. And while you're apparently genetically predisposed to carry the fat in your legs, don't be too concerned about being "thin on top." If you lose fat, your legs will shrink, period. You're not going to turn into a cartoon character. I can almost guarantee you that if you did a hydrostatic body weight test (or something more accurate than calipers) you'll come out as being overweight.

The weight training mentioned above will help, as will cutting sodium intake (have a doctor draw some blood and rule out a kidney disorder for the cankles). But there is no magic "make the fat come off my legs instead of my upper body" magic to be had.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:44 PM on January 17, 2008

Dude, I can completely sympathize. I have the same problems- fat knees, cankles, chunky thighs, the whole deal. For a long time, I've been extremely self conscious about my legs- only pants or long skirts, no bathing suits if at all possible, the whole deal. Recently, though, I've realized that all I can do is deal with it. I have accepted my tree trunks legs :)

I've started experimenting with different skirt lengths, for one- I've found that skirts that go to right above the knee or just below can look pretty nice on me, fat knees and all. Having more confidence has helped a lot, but so has exercising. I've been taking a kickboxing class that requires a lot of squats, leg lifts, kicking and supporting myself on my raised toes and hopping around. I've been doing this three or four times a week for an hour for about a month now, and I can see a difference in my legs. more calf muscle = less fat looking ankles and more definition, plus thinner thighs and less knee fat. That has been really really confidence boosting, but the main thing is becoming confident.

Find a dress you think is really cute/sexy/plays up your best features... that shows your legs at least a little bit. Wear it out and remember that people are not looking at you thinking "Ewww, what is she thinking of, exposing her nasty legs to us?". They see someone confident enough to wear something a bit revealing who doesn't have supermodel legs. I think most people will find that impressive, not pitiable. At least I hope so :)
posted by MadamM at 8:47 PM on January 17, 2008

Perhaps you would benefit from some bi-weekly massage therapy and a trip to your local vascular specialist. Also, have you ever seen a chiropractor for this? At the very least, a chiropractor can give you a decent consultation in the way of nutritional supplements that might help you.
posted by mamaraks at 8:47 PM on January 17, 2008

Pilates and ballet are both known for their ability to streamline the body. But, you know, it takes a lot of effort, and if you're like most of us you won't be able to keep it up forever--you'll start a new job, or have a family crisis, or whatever, and fall off the wagon-- and then you'll go back to your natural configuration. So if you ask me (and you did, heh) you should put just as much effort into feeling cool with yourself the way you are.
posted by Enroute at 9:25 PM on January 17, 2008

Self tanner. I dislike my legs a little less if they aren't pasty. Its a small improvement - but super low effort.
If you are slim and your ankles are swollen - I second the idea to mention it the next time you're at the doctor. I have a friend getting a thyroid panel because of some excessive leg swelling
posted by Wolfie at 10:01 PM on January 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm going to agree with Cool Papa Bell and suggest that you are probably a bit overweight and just store it disproportionately.

I had the same problem with my waistline where I looked thin but my overall body fat percentage was still a bit high, meaning I needed to lose a few.

Did Shangri-La Diet and came out of it looking pretty damn good. Highly recommended.
posted by fan_of_all_things_small at 10:07 PM on January 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've ridden bicycles regularly for about five years now and I've been told my legs are hot and "one of my best features" (not sure how to take that.) I'm a guy, but before my legs were pretty undefined and not a part of my body I was particularly proud of.

Every girl I know who rides regularly or cycles at the gym also has well toned, attractive legs.

So, just echoing the advice above, tone up your legs and don't be afraid of increasing muscle. And if you don't want to go the whole lunges and other leg-specific route, then consider cycling.
posted by wfrgms at 10:11 PM on January 17, 2008

Hey now, leave Hillary out of it! :) (I am a huge fan of hers.)

It's totally true about fat being stored disproportionately.. so you can lose it if that's the case.. as for worrying about cankles.. I bet nobody else thinks that and you worry too much, but have you tried different kinds of shoes, different heel heights, and looked at where the vamp lands on your foot? I wonder if the perfect shoe style might make you feel a lot better and be more flattering. even in summer, wedges and espadrilles might be perfect, maybe even the kind of espadrilles with ribbon ties up the leg; maybe an ankle strap will be very flattering (or maybe it'll look awful.. try everything). The wrong kind of shoes will make anyone look squat.
posted by citron at 10:24 PM on January 17, 2008

To add on to citron's shoe suggestion, consider boots of varying lengths. Try on a pair that covers the part of your ankles you consider unflattering (perhaps ankle boots?). Try on a pair that hits your legs mid-calf, and another that hits just below your knee, etc. Combine with different lengths of skirts to find a combination that flatters your legs. Because of the perspective issue mentioned by Phalene, get someone else's opinion. Actually, have someone take photos if possible so you can get a good look at how your legs look when you're not peering down at them or looking sideways in a mirror that's six inches away. Sometimes thin stockings or hose with a subtle pattern or texture can make legs look more attractive too.

I don't like the word cankles and find chunky calves cute (having chicken legs, or more accurately chicken calves, myself) but it turns out that googling how to disguise cankles turns up a number of tips on shoe styles and clothing that flatters women with muscular/stocky legs, including this blog post.
posted by PY at 11:39 PM on January 17, 2008

Seriously, people in real life are asking if you're anorexic, and now you're telling us that your kneecaps are fat and your calves are chunky because there is too much muscle on them and you have strong ankles?? There is a real possibility this is a false and unhealthy perception. I would check it out with others before doing too much dieting or exercise. Maybe it's true. But also, I thought my legs were fat when I was 15 and attended cross-country running practice every day of the week for two hours. Take a poll of people you know and believe what they say.
posted by salvia at 12:23 AM on January 18, 2008 [3 favorites]

(I'm sorry, I shouldn't have written with that tone. You'll get less italics next time from me.)
posted by salvia at 12:32 AM on January 18, 2008

Seconding wfrgms's suggestion to get on a bicycle. It does great things for your calf muscles - not in a bulky, chunky way, but in a sleek, well-defined, elegant kind of way. The difference in my legs since I've taken up cycling is noticeable.
posted by bassjump at 6:41 AM on January 18, 2008

I have all of the above. When I gain weight, the first place it goes is my legs, so now that I'm up 15 lbs from my fightin' weight, it's long skirts and boots (which, yes, are tight around the calves) because on me, slacks look poor on my thighs!

When I was at my fightin' weight, the exercise of choice was interval jogging. (Usual workout is a week 5 or 6 program, I'd only do the last three weeks when actually prepping for a race.) I was ASTONISHED at the difference it made in my legs. Everything firmed up and even the cellulite diminished a bit. I especially liked that I could do this with my little dogs when the weather was good and give them a workout at the same time as I got one!
posted by foxydot at 7:32 AM on January 18, 2008

Do squats.

Read Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe.
posted by tiburon at 7:52 AM on January 18, 2008

Climbing stairs or using a Stairmaster tones the entire leg, not just the calves. Always kept my legs looking great!
posted by misha at 8:00 AM on January 18, 2008

Don't forget to exercise your upper arms, shoulders, back and chest!

My shoulders were normally so narrow and bony that my big hips, butt, and legs looked even bigger. But in the past year, I've been exercising -- lower body has shrunk a tad, but my shoulders and upper back now have some shape and bulk. My chest hest muscles aren't noticeable, except that there's less of a skin-and-bones look. The changes are subtle, but they make a big difference to me. Other people have said I'm looking good... though it might just be because I'm happier with the way I look, and I'm also dressing better.
posted by wryly at 8:27 AM on January 18, 2008

I'm going to go against the advice here and say do NOT do squats or build leg muscle. Instead, do lots of cardio to lose weight overall, and then do lots of bulky muscle building exercise for your upper half, so that it looks beefier and balances out your doughier bottom half.

I tend to be a little bit like you, and when I was training for a marathon and doing leg muscle building, my thighs got so huge I couldn't stand it. I cut out the muscle building crap and got lean enough to fit into my pants again.
posted by iamkimiam at 8:31 AM on January 18, 2008

Your kneecaps are fat? Seriously, I've never noticed anyone's kneecaps as being fat or skinny or ugly or attractive. They're just kneecaps. This leads me to believe that you may be obsessing over something that no one else gives a second thought to. It's entirely possible that this is something that you should not worry about.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:33 AM on January 18, 2008

also, avoid flats, especially ballet flats, if you are going to wear a skirt. They make even the skinniest model's legs look stubby. Definitely wear heels. Stilettos, if possible, although you don't have to wobble around on 4" heels if you don't want to. But heels will visually elongate your legs.
posted by buka at 9:54 AM on January 18, 2008

Bicycling is great, but as a former ballerina, my legs never looked so good as when I was in pointe condition. One of the best ballet videos is the "New York City Ballet Workout".
posted by lilithim at 9:58 AM on January 18, 2008

When I was a little girl, my friend used to give me hell for having a "fat stomach". I had a little paunch but tiny stick legs and no hips. She, on the other hand, had your body type and had a perfectly flat stomach that she showed off all the time with cropped shirts. But, like you, she carried all of her weight in the butt/legs. Later we figured out that she is a pear and I am an apple.

We're all built differently and you're certainly not alone with your body type. Before you do anything you should work on accepting and loving your body the way it is. Sure, people joke about Hillary's cankles but I can assure you, being teased about my belly was no doubt as unpleasant. Everyone has things about themselves that they don't like, for some people it's a big butt, for some it's a flat butt, for some it's big sagging breasts, for others it's having very small breasts. Trust me, you'll feel a lot better if you can forgive your ankles for not being thin. What's important is that your body is (I presume) strong and healthy. And your body type is actually better for your heart!

The best my body ever looked overall was when I was swimming. You tone your muscles in all kinds of ways and you add some resistance for your legs with flippers or other accessories. It's also relaxing, meditative, and very easy on your joints unlike some other exercises.

One poster recommended a low carb diet. I would absolutely advise against that, no one knows what the long term effect of these diets are on the kidneys because they have to work hard to filter out the extra protein. You're basically forcing your body to manufacture carbs (ketosis) and the ketones are not good for you.

Good luck to you!
posted by red_lotus at 10:09 AM on January 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you are thin on top, and have legs that are fat it is possible that you have lipedema. Women are much more likely to have it than men and it is often misdiagnosed, or never diagnosed, as women just think they are fat. It can not be dieted away but, there are treatments to help with it.
posted by SuzySmith at 12:58 PM on January 18, 2008

Try cycling. Enough said.
posted by BeaverTerror at 7:25 PM on January 18, 2008

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