I Love My Knees


Can we talk about knees for a moment?

Many years ago, a friend made a passing comment about her “fat knees.” I was about 22 at the time and utterly baffled. Previous to that, I’d never met anyone who felt self-conscious about her knees for any reason and figured they were not a point of bodily scrutiny for most folks. Oh, how wrong I was. And the older I get, the more women I meet who are so ashamed of their knees that they insist upon covering them with long pants or midi skirts at all times. And although most of these women are older than me – apparently knees that have passed the age of 40 are frequently assigned to the “eye-searingly gross” category – some are younger. Many, many women hate their knees. Women of all ages, sizes, and shapes.

After years of media brainwashing, I understand how we end up hating our bellies and busts and upper arms. I don’t like it, but I get it: There is enough anatomic variety and enough emphasis on how those body parts “should” be shaped to warp our views. Knee-hatred, on the other hand, continues to baffle me. I mean, have you SEEN knees? They are joints, for crying out loud. They are a body part where a whole bunch of cartilage and bone and tendon converges to enable locomotion. They are not supposed to be smooth and wrinkle-free. They would not WORK if they were smooth and wrinkle-free. There would be very little bending possible in a knee covered in tight, taut skin. And unless you have a very specific set of genetics and proportions, there will be a saggy little bit of bonus leg perched atop your kneecap. THIS IS FINE! This is how knees look. And don’t go telling me that celebrity knees are made of nothing but unbearably sexy planes and angles. All knees are a little smooshy, a little wrinkly, a little odd looking. They were designed to be that way.

I believe that my mother-in-law and father-in-law have at least three fake knees between them, and I’ve watched them endure the agony of knee-replacement surgery. Whenever my own knees get a little stiff or creaky, I am reminded to steward them well, because they are essential and somewhat vulnerable, even in a non-athlete such as myself. If you have the ability to walk unaided, you can thank your knees for that. If you can ride a bike or squat down to grab a fallen pen or bend to seat yourself in a car, you can thank your knees for all of those things, too. They may not be gorgeous, but they are little miracles of biological design.

Am I saying that you are required to massage your knees with essential oils and sing them love songs? I am not. Am I saying that if you and your knees aren’t getting along, you must immediately begin wearing mini skirts to heal the rift? Nope. But it hurts my heart to see this vital, undervalued, and amazing body part so maligned. I know that super wrinkly, saggy knees make people feel self-conscious, and if you are self-conscious about ANYTHING it is your prerogative to keep that thing private in any way you see fit. But I’ve met dozens upon dozens of women who reject skirts and dresses and shorts that look utterly marvelous on them, simply because those garments showed some knee. Wearing below-the-knee hems can make you overheat in summer, it can break up your proportions in odd ways, it can severely limit your shopping and dressing options. And hiding your knees enables you to continue feeling ashamed of them.

So, if you have been knee-shy in the past, I hope I can encourage you to practice a little knee-love. Your knees look like that because of motion, and that motion is a blessing that some are denied. Your knees look like everyone else’s, and very few people are going to scrutinize them anyway. Your knees and my knees and Shailene Woodley’s knees are all a little smooshy, a little wrinkly, a little odd looking. And that is completely, utterly fine.

Image courtesy Coba. A version of this first appeared on Huffington Post.

Originally posted 2014-10-20 06:15:51.

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17 Responses to “I Love My Knees”

  1. Cynthia

    I don’t think wearing midi skirts as you get older is necessarily a sign of leg/knee shame. It’s just that a lot of people gravitate to practicality eventually. I wear them because they are less constricting than pencil skirts and less likely to blow up and expose anything than the above knee full skirts that have been so popular the last few years. I’m a sprawler and a free mover, I put my feet on my desk when I’m deep into something at work, I take long strides, and if I’m going to wear skirts they need to be longer and heavier. I learned that as I got older and now I know, that’s all.

  2. Jennifer

    I never understood people who felt this way. How can a body part be ugly? It is what it is! In the past I’ve been attempted to be shamed for the following: not having an hourglass figure, visible scars from scrapes/injuries, a tiny patch of varicose veins on my leg, stretch marks, not dyeing my graying hair, being too skinny, being too fat, having short hair, having long hair…someone is bound to find a fault with you and “kindly” point it out to you and act all horrified when you don’t care to cover yourself in a burka to hide your offending self or try to “fix the problem”. I just do my best to shake the comments off and ignore them. Interestingly enough, I’ve only had such comments from women and never from men. I’ve never had a man point out a physical flaw; if they make any comments it’s to compliment something they like.

  3. San

    I used to dislike my knees, because my thighs are somewhat hollow above them. My legs are very long and the joints see odd in the middle of them. With the years I became more confident are sometimes show them, provided the proportions allow. It as a journey, though.

  4. Linda

    Well, I don’t know. I have what I consider to be unattractive knees. I expend pretty much zero emotional energy in self-loathing of them, though. I simply wear skirts that cover them, if just barely, while still feeling grateful for their functionality. It’s not that big a deal.

  5. PolarSamovar

    Huh. I have never in my life particularly noticed another person’s knees. I could not identify anyone except myself by their knees alone.

    I recognize my own knees only because I have a birthmark above one of them. It looks like the blowhole of a sperm whale (my thigh being the whale, the knee its head) when I sit down in shorts. This thought occurred to me when I was a child, before “a thigh like a whale” could have any negative connotation to me — and I have been just slightly fonder of my whale-thigh than the other one, ever since.

  6. Carolyn @ At Least I Will

    Sadly, I felt this way for a long time. Growing up, all my best friends were these stick-thin girls with chicken legs and knobby knees. My legs were thicker and my knees were straight from the thigh to the calf. Not that my knees weren’t normal, I just didn’t know that. It’s just like any other body part that people get self-conscious about. Once you think you’re different and abnormal, it’s all you see.

  7. jan.4987

    I was an adult before I know of this particular neurosis, too, so a bit of a late-comer, and I think what shocked me the most was how judgemental some women are about *other women’s* knees, saying things like “she needs to cover those up”. I’m sorry, WHAT? Of all the things to criticise. I can understand noticing something about yourself that isn’t like other people’s version of it and feeling somehow “wrong”, but having a go at other people for their lack of shame about totally neutral body parts… People who do that must be very unhappy, that’s all I can think.

  8. Lisa Wong

    Ooh this one baffles me too. I’m lucky enough to have healthy knees that I never think much about, except when I’m doing tricky poses in yoga and I need to take extra care I don’t injure them.

  9. Natalia Lialina

    You are a breath of fresh air, Sally! I had a similar experience when I was a teen and wore a skirt above my knee. Someone commented, “I also have round knees – I guess I also can wear short skirts!” Up to that moment, I had no idea that knees differ in shapes and that there are shapes that are less wonderful than others.

  10. louise

    what part don’t you understand? different people have different insecurities, and our insecurities are not usually about what other people are “scrutinizing.” I hated being tallish at 5’8″ (still do but at least I don’t stoop over any more), even though other people would say they envied my height.

  11. Cynthia Peterson

    A friend and I were shopping for tall boots in a department store. A beautiful — I mean stunningly beautiful-could-be-a-model– woman sat down next to us and tried on a pair of boots that (to us) seemed to be perfect over her skinny jeans. We complimented her, and she said, “Do my knees look as bad as I think they look in these?” We both told her they were stunning on her, and she bought them, but she was worried about her knees??? Really??

  12. Nebraskim

    I understand this body part “hatred” completely. I don’t notice others’ knees, but I dislike mine a wee bit. I find my knee joints themselves are OK, but there is a lot of fat just above and inside my knees that is unattractive and seems to live there no matter how much weight I lose. I also dislike my flabby upper arms, which apparently no amount of triceps work will rectify. My workaround is to NEVER and I mean NEVER wear sleeveless tops (it helps that I am always cold, so I wouldn’t wear sleeveless tops anyway) and to always wear skirts or shorts (rarely worn outside my house) that are at least the top of my knees and skirts always with tights or leggings. I recently saw a new Spanx product on QVC that is sort of a compression top for upper arms. I am intrigued enough that I will probably purchase this. No, you cannot wear sleeveless tops with the garment on because it’s visible but I wouldn’t wear sleeveless anyway. But it would allow the wearing of a more body con knit shirt because it contains the wiggle.

  13. Joni

    I love my belly, bust, and upper arms. I generally have a positive self-image, but I feel much more confident wearing skirts that cover my knees. I have a history of multiple knee surgeries and have had joint problems since childhood. My wonky knees were something I was born with and they have often given out on me and have necessitated braces. My knees are shaped oddly and covered with scars. I don’t think anyone has ever commented but I just feel much more confident with them covered.

  14. Megan Gann

    Counter to the Whale-poster, I always considered my knees to be “Owl” knees because the divots in them looked like barn owls faces. (Which when i was younger made me hate them, but now it makes me giggle)

  15. Jennifer Smith

    I’m on the generally dislike knees group. Knees are functional , but in my own opinion they are not the prettiest feature on most anyone.I would generally estimate a small percentage of the population would be “model perfect ” in the knee department . Most joints are used and abused, scarred, skipped over for pampering beauty treatments( let’s be honest how often do we skip shaving around ankles and knees to avoid nicks when we are rushed? How often do you hear of someone getting a mani/pedi with a soothing hot wax treatment compared to treatments for knees,ankles and elbows?)
    For myself ,I’d fall in the same camp as NebraskaKim , I think the actual joint is okay but the back of the thigh fat is unattractive to my eye and I choose to not highlight a feature that isn’t a positive. I will wear some shorter knee length/slightly above skirts in winter with tights and booties/boots/clogs . I try not to be nasty negative about my knee dislike (at least not to actual people! critiqing a magazine ad especially privately is another matter..) .
    I think that other hem lengths are more flattering on many people, if a woman’s thighs are in good shape then a mini can look better . If not (or her prefered movement and stance are more casual then a on the knee or lower usually works well. I find it to be very irksome to try to dress in a flattering way in the lengths or cuts that flatter ME and the retail world trys to put out “only” one look. Or “if” you can find something else the price is prohibitively expensive,dull same colors(or lack of color i.e. its BLACK again..Sigh…) Most if not all of the dresses where I work are far too short on me which admittedly makes me a bit peeved . Oh well thats what learning to sew is great for!

  16. anniemichael

    i have also long considered myself to have fat knees. my knees are definitely one of my least favorite body parts. i want to mention something, because it has recently come to my awareness too:

    as a very bottom-heavy, pear-shaped person, i long ago accepted (and love) my fat thighs, knees, and hips. but recently i learned that possibly this shape is due to a genetic fat disorder called lipedema (not lymphedema, not lipedemia). very simply, women with lipedema have large accumulation of fat tissue in the legs (usually hips, butt, thighs, often calves and ankles, and also sometimes the upper arm), which is not affected by diet, exercise, or other weight-loss strategies. fatty deposits on and around the knees is quite a hallmark. obligatory wikipedia link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lipedema (lipedema is, at first, primarily a cosmetic concern, but in later stages can be quite debilitating: pain, decreased mobility, etc.) it is apparently present in up to 11% of women, but most doctors in the united states simply have no idea it exists.

    i suppose i wonder how many of these knee-hating women have lipedema. note that this can occur in women of all sizes. i’m an average-sized person (with, i think, fantastic body image), who often admires the legs and knees of women much larger than me.