According to Google, a cankle is “an unusually thick or stout ankle.” If you take a look at the images that pop up after that search you will see cankles are huge punch line in what sees to be a never ending fat joke. A lot of the memes circulating right now are at the expense of Hillary and Bill Clinton. Whatever feelings you have about them, you can agree that insults of this nature are low brow and juvenile. You will also notice a lot of “Get Thin Quick” style ads willing to help you eliminate your unsightly cankles for the low, low price of $19.99. Usually these ad have some mind blowing before and after pictures and a giant Click Here NOW!!
So, based on that, cankles are a bad thing right? Something completely and totally unattractive. Another thing women need to change about themselves to fit into the ever shrinking category of “Acceptable.” We mustn’t let ourselves be too thin, or flat, or hairy, or fat, or anything else that might be too much or, conversely, not enough. We must always, no matter the situation, be attractive. And we must never, ever have cankles.
Guess what? I have cankles. Big, thick, stout calf ankle hybrids. Starting after my scarred up knees, my legs flow, like fallen logs down a stream, into the flatlands that are my big wide feet. Since late elementary school, these chunky stems have been hidden under pants. People may assume, but they don’t for sure know. But I do.I have big cotton picking cankles.
And even though I’m using “cotton picking” as a tongue in cheek adjective, there’s some truth there. Going back many generations, the women of my blood line worked in the cotton fields and mills, picking and spinning the crop that made this part of the South.
My maternal great grandmother, Grandmaw Katie, worked the fields with her husband Ott, and their five children. ( Sidenote: Grandpaw Ott passed away before I was born, so while he is a family member, I don’t really know a lot about him.) From sunup to sunset, they would move through the fields, hunched over at the waist, plucking the little balls of fluff out of their thistle homes. The fields they inched their way through were owned not by ‘well to do’ farmers but by ‘better to do’ farmers. No one was well off in their corner of the world. They picked cotton and tended the fields in exchange for a little clapboard house to stay in and a few dollars per bale.
It was a hard life but Grandma Katie was a hard, tough women. Story goes that she picked cotton right up until she was in active labor with one of my great uncles. She then went into the house, birthed the baby, and was back out in the field before the sun was down. I remember her being mean and stern in the way that only a grandmother can. And I remember, she too had big thick legs and cankles.
In her later years, they would swell and become stiff. Her knees would become hard and refuse to work right. Her ankles would expand over the edges of her good church shoes. Both those legs traveled many miles inches at a time to keep a roof overhead. They stood hours upon hours in front of hot stoves, frying every part of the chicken to feed the hungry mouths at the table. They bowed at the knee to give praise to her god, and jumped and jived to the out of tune gospel music her sister played at reunions. Those legs worked a sewing making to make clothes out of flour sacks. Those legs birthed a generation, and held the ones after. They were the legs and cankles of a goddess.
When I was around 10, while hanging out looking at his motorcycle, my maternal uncle grabbed my calf. He laughed when I yelled.
“You got them thick Grandmaw Katie legs.” He said, working his fingers into the thickness of my calf, something between a tickle and a pinch.
I was ashamed, feeling the weight of a what I thought was a male declaration of my unsightliness. I was a young girl, I wasn’t suppose to have old lady legs. I was suppose to be little and pretty. I was not. I pulled myself out of the uncomfortable air that surrounded us then and went back inside. I remember at the time, not fully understanding why I felt so weird by his comments. It would take me years to unpack all the things from that day. And if I’m truthful, I’ll admit, some days I still carry that memory as part of my heavy mental load. The next time I saw him, and every time after, I made sure to wear full pants.
A lot of time has passed. So has that uncle. And now, after a life of being ashamed, I’m proud of these thick legs and these stout cankles. I get shit done with these things. I’ve birthed a generation of my own and spend everyday helping them become who they are. I work a modern sewing machine pedal with these chunky extremities, making clothes and bags out of fabric a little more expensive than flour sack fabric. I worship my gods and goddesses with these legs and feet, using them to walk under the moonlight. These cankles are important. And while they might not fit in most conventional boot sizes, they are wonderful.
As much as they are mine, they also belong to those who came before. They are one of the links to not just my ancestors, but their strengths as well. I can only hope that wherever they are, the women that came before me are pleased with the woman I turned out to be. Cotton picking cankles and all.