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The day my thighs burned, I was walking through Central Park in New York City on a perfect summer day. I remember the searing pain, the realization that I was too physically uncomfortable to keep moving, the sense of embarrassment, and the secret hope that no strangers would ask me what was going on.
I thought something had flown up my multi-color maxi dress and stung me. It felt like someone lit a match between my legs. I screamed out, “what the hell is going on?” In that moment, I didn’t have a clue that it was just chafing. All I knew was that there was no bug bite, and I had to be carried home to ice my inner thighs.
It happened again a week later, and then again a few days after that. That intense burning between my thighs? It was foreign and frightening. My body had changed since my days as a student athlete. While I was still athletic, I had new curves, and my thighs rubbed together. But I didn’t realize at first that these body changes had led to this pain. So, I immediately dove into research mode. I polled my family and friends, and did many Google searches, eventually discovering that chafing was a real, valid experience.
During my research, I became intensely aware of the deep body-shaming in our society. I saw language in magazine articles (chub-rub, really?), TV shows, and even heard in my friends’ everyday conversations that left me feeling alarmed and saddened at how we ruthlessly shame our bodies. This, along with the limited options available to alleviate the real pain of chafing, led me to stop feeling good in my body.
I stopped taking the long walks that I always loved because the shame taught me that my body’s changes can be a source of sadness. I hesitated when it came to buying pretty skirts and dresses that I’d always enjoyed because finding clothes to fit my new body shape became a laborious process. I avoided foods that I had always loved as I inherited society’s narrative that enjoying food at a certain size should be shameful.
With the new concern over how I was perceived in the world, I shamed myself for my body’s changes by dissecting the parts I loved (my hips!) and the parts I was displeased with (my no-longer-toned arms). I was frustrated with the hunt of finding the right biker shorts or shapewear to protect my thighs from chafing. And when I tried to use baby powder to keep my thighs dry so they wouldn’t chafe, I had no choice but to laugh out loud at the ridiculousness of the white powder against my brown skin. And on top of it all? I felt embarrassed for not feeling 100% awesome about my body at all times in our highly ‘body-positive’ world.
What started as a simple, small moment ballooned into something much bigger when I looked out into the world and saw the negativity surrounding something completely common: chafing. All of this contributed to me almost losing my self-confidence and my appreciation for my body. Because of the shame I was feeling about my body, I almost lost the playful, sexy, smart, fun, and grounded essence of myself.
Gratefully, day by day, I am reclaiming my body and my narrative around it. I’ve started my long walks again. I know now that chafing can happen to thin and fat bodies alike, but my body only experienced chafing when I gained weight, and I had unconsciously absorbed the negative societal and cultural narratives around weight gain.
I’m wearing and twirling in all of the pretty dresses and skirts that make me smile. I am learning to love my thighs and have released myself from wearing restrictive shapewear. It is terrifying but also freeing as I put my vulnerabilities on display and allow myself to craft my story in a way that speaks my truth.
I am embracing my body as is, and the more I’ve accepted that my thighs sometimes chafe, the less emotionally invested I’ve been in it. I still acknowledge the physical pain; however no longer connect it to a sense of shame as I am far more tuned in to how I am feeling internally above all else. Here’s to reclaiming our narratives, our bodies and ourselves.