The older I get, the less time I spend worrying about what I look like – which saves me a lot of time, and the expenditure of much emotional energy. I sometimes look at photos of myself when I was younger and moderately attractive, and wish I’d spend rather less time and energy back then, beating myself up for being ugly. But even now I’m old, and my priorities in life are better aligned than they used to be, I still hate my legs. They’ve always been horrid – I won’t cause them any more embarrassment than they already feel by listing their shortcomings, but they’re truly not attractive. For years I worked them furiously at the gym and in advanced Pilates classes, but their shape never materially improved, and now I’ve had to accept that it never will, however many steps I do per day.
I remember very clearly when I was a teenager and going through a Colette phase, reading the description of Gigi’s legs, and comparing the mental image with my own lumpy pins: “Gilberte folded up under her the heron-like legs of a girl of fifteen. Below her tartan skirt, she revealed ribbed cotton stockings to just above the knees, unconscious of the perfect oval shape of her knee-caps. Slender calf and high arched instep – Madame Alvarez never let her eyes run over these fine points without regretting that her granddaughter had not studied dancing professionally.” And to make matters worse, of course, in the film version of the story they cast the exquisite Leslie Caron and her perfect legs as Gigi.
As well as the lingering irritation I feel with myself at my failure to embrace my legs (emotionally, that is – I can still bend well enough to embrace them physically if the mood ever takes me), I also have to deal with the the bitter envy I feel towards women with nice legs: jealousy is not attractive, and I disapprove of myself when I experience it, but when I see a woman striding confidently down the street on a lovely pair of legs I feel a pang of disappointment and regret that I’ll never know what that’s like. I’ll also never know what it’s like to turn a triple somersault or win a Nobel Prize, but I feel pleasure and admiration when other people achieve these – it’s only stupid things like shapely legs that bring out my petty side.
So you may be surprised to hear that when I bumped into her at Stratford Butterfly Farm this afternoon, the lovely legs of this Mexican Red Knee Tarantula didn’t trigger my green-eyed monster at all. In fact, I warmly and sincerely congratulated on her beautiful knees – because I really do feel that they are among the nicest four pairs of knees I’ve ever seen. It was also fortunate for my purposes that they’re such a lovely bright colour, because her tank was so dark that they were the only bits of her the camera could catch hold of to find focus. Ideally, I would like to have had better focus on her sweet little beady eyes, but you can’t have everything and at least I got the knees.
I’m hopeful that my generosity of spirit towards these knees may signal a phase of emotional growth, during which I learn to mentally compliment women with nice legs who pass me in the street, rather than silently hissing at them. Or if I don’t make it that far, perhaps I’ll at least be able to think “Those are really quite attractive knees, I suppose – though Brachypelma smithi’s are definitely nicer.”