It was 1987 and on Christmas morning, between my Jem doll (she really was Truly Outrageous) and my Cabbage Patch Kid was a box with words so taboo now, they are hard to quote even for the sake of this article: "Get in Shape, Girl: A fitness program for today's young girl."
Maybe you got one too. A turquoise cassette tape that was just barely pre-Jock Jams, a jump rope, some light weights, and a gymnastics ribbon. I loved it! I'm not sure it affected my "shape," per se, since I really didn't have one at that time, but I can remember the feel of the breeze from the gymnastics ribbon whipping by my face even now. I pretty much was Mary Lou Retton.
And, as such, I needed legwarmers.
My mother saw to it that I had some. They were the absolute perfect accessory. So, when I passed some cozy gray ones last winter at Target, they called out to me from my childhood, the way things do. I tugged those babies on as soon as I got home. Walking my kid into school with my legwarmers on made me want to try a herkie in her third grade hallway.
Thought better of it. I'm 41 now, so, you know. Better not.
That being said, I found myself wearing my legwarmers multiple times per week. Then almost everyday. Pretty soon, I found myself putting them on every time I had shoes and socks on. Sometimes, just socks. The 80's were good to me and the leg warmers reminded me of that. That ankle-hug did more than cut the draft coming in from the bottom of my jeans. It said, "You try that herkie, Girl!"
Bigger than that, though, was that it never crossed my mind to care that I'm the only one who bought into Target's (priceless) throwback item. Once, I even pointed out to my husband casually, "You know, I've noticed, I don't think anyone else wears legwarmers." He said, "I've noticed too. They don't. But you love those things." Perfectly put, Jim. Perfectly put. I do love those things and I donot mind that I'm on an island here.
This is new. I always cared before. During my first legwarmer-wearing-era, I always wanted to make sure my jeans were pinch-rolled perfectly. That took practice, and I obliged. I wanted to make sure my bangs were teased just right with just enough Aqua Net to defy gravity but not so much that those little white flakes appeared in my hair. We couldn't afford real Keds with the blue label on the back (nor Guess jeans with the triangle), but at least I'd get some that looked incredibly close to the real thing.
However, now I. do. not. care.
I'm going to wear what I want to wear because it's cool to me. This is living in your 40's and it's too bad I couldn't do that in the 80's. It's one of those unexpected, delightful surprises about getting older that no one mentioned to me before now. The comfort in your own skin is enviable. Good days, bad days...no biggie. You've figured out how to dress your particular body. You've embraced the texture of your hair and found the best hair girl in town for you. So, hey, this is as good as it's going to get and that's just fine because this ain't half bad, as it turns out.
But most of all, there's a coming of age that happens way beyond adolescence that is a bit like Heaven because we finally make peace with lots of parts of who we are. It has something to do with acceptance and courage and beauty and contentment and me. And that, my friends, is what that warm ankle-hug gives me that keeps me coming back for more. It's a message I'm sending to my self and to the world that God made this Candace and she's rolling with it, no matter what the magazines say.
It's the hidden gift of legwarmers.
***Author's note: Autocorrect desperately wants me to spell it "leg warmers," but in my 80's memory, it's a compound word. We're going throwback on the spelling!