The Case Against Cankles

Tonight, I spent five minutes analyzing the place where my calf meets my foot. It’s called the ankle, and it’s a joint, which I’ve confirmed thanks to a two-second Wikipedia search (sorry, mom).

I couldn’t figure out, for the first four-and-a-half minutes, why I was so obsessed with the joint. I kept bending it and looking at it. Okay, it’s my foot. Great.

Then I remembered. It’s thanks to this little gem, Vox Populi’s Twuesday Tweetacular:

"[Twitterer] saw something at Yates that he couldn’t unsee.”

The tagline?

“[Twitterer] saw something at Yates that he couldn’t unsee.”

I didn’t even know what cankles were until four-ish months ago, when a friend kindly informed me that she had them. Apparently, cankles are what a woman has when her ankle joint isn’t perfectly defined.

Frankly, I can’t really distinguish between my ankle and my calf, as I determined this evening during my leg analysis. Therefore, I have cankles.

Because I totally needed something else to be wrong with my body.

I’m not criticizing the Georgetown student who wrote this on his Twitter. It’s not my business to criticize what he writes on his private, locked account. It becomes my business to criticize the broader publisher of this information, though. Vox Populi is the blog of The Georgetown Voice and a personal go-to favorite of large portions of campus for quick updates and good procrastination. I was under the impression that the “Twuesday Tweetacular” is supposed to be full of funny Tweets, not Tweets that illustrate what else is wrong with my body.

I guess I’m just sick of being told what’s wrong with my physical state. I’m already making a concerted effort to change my body to match a societal standard by losing weight. How many things are you going to tell me about that I can’t really control? That my fat ends up near the bottom of my legs instead of in my stomach is not really something I have any interest in paying attention to, and I’m not really sure why everyone else is so obsessed with this.

And worse: when we are at the gym, we are at our most vulnerable. Those of us who are out of shape, or overweight, or not muscly enough, or feel like we are one of the above spend 30 minutes huffing and puffing in clothes that show more skin than we’d ever like exposed in public. In fact, I run in leggings underneath my shorts because I’m already so terrified that my legs are jiggling. The gym is where our weaknesses are exposed. My body fat, my lack of physical fitness, my love of MTV on the Yates television screens – everyone can see it. As we try to become more healthy, or try to fit the standard of beauty that society has set, we open ourselves up to criticism of our bodies criticism that we could avoid better if we weren’t trying to “fix” them.

And I try to console myself when I go to the gym, as I know so many others do: no one is looking at me. Everyone must be paying to much attention to their own work out regimens to notice my thighs jiggling a bit, or the fact that no, my ankle is not a particularly defined element of my body.

Turns out, this was incorrect. Thanks for the heads up, Vox! I can’t wait to get back to Yates, now, to “fix” ALL THE PROBLEMS THAT YOU’RE LAUGHING AT ME FOR WHILE I’M AT YATES.

We’ve become accustomed to seeing women’s bodies as objects we can criticize at any time. If we think she’s too fat or her ankles aren’t “ankly” enough – even if she’s at a place where she’s trying to change that– it becomes okay to laugh at her because we’re not comfortable with the way her body looks. We do this, too, when women’s breasts are too large or too small, or when our lips are too thin or too thick, or when our hair is too straight or too curly or too gray. You don’t like it? Laugh at it! Because it’s just fucking hilarious.

Shame on you, Vox, for pulling this as a funny Tweet for the week.

  1. That’s some specific, hard-hitting criticism. Thanks!

    But at the risk of appearing woefully out of touch, why is a cankle “what a woman has,” as opposed to what a person has? Personally, I’ve never associated the term with a gender.

    Regardless, your criticism didn’t fall on deaf ears. I’ll keep it in mind from here on out.

    Chris Heller
    Editor, Vox Populi

      • Mara Alyse
      • July 28th, 2010

      HA! An important question I guess I never actually answered. Point very well made.

      Question: perhaps you, personally, have never associated a cankle with gender, which perhaps just makes you a good person. But have you ever heard anyone else associate it with a man? Have you ever looked at a guy and thought, “man, that dude has CANKLES?”

      Urban dictionary seems to agree with me:

      Even the definitions that don’t use the word “she” or “woman” all invoke female names or shoes that are associated with women (although I’m all for men wearing “ankle strap shoes” if they so choose).

      Except for definition #12. I’m not sure I’ve ever read that far into an urban dictionary definition, and I think, despite being hilarious, that might prove why.

      Need a more legit definition than a bunch of cursing, random 13-year olds? (I don’t, but I write this blog and not something with journalistic integrity haha). Check out this WSJ article:
      Not a single man with cankles.

      • Mara Alyse
      • July 28th, 2010

      Another important question: does it matter, really, who the word belongs to? I obviously focused on women here because that’s how I perceive the word being used. But shaming people’s bodies in the gym, regardless of sex or gender, is never beneficial – we’re *all* vulnerable there.

      Thanks for actually reading and responding, and also for not taking the tone personally (I write like this, sadly) or getting defensive. I definitely appreciate that a LOT.

      • “But shaming people’s bodies in the gym, regardless of sex or gender, is never beneficial – we’re *all* vulnerable there.”

        That’s the idea I was trying to suggest through my question. (An idea that could’ve been expressed more clearly. 2am is not the time to comment on a blog, at least for me.)

        I’m glad you mentioned this; it’s sums up the concern about my comment. And like I wrote last night, I plan to remember it.

    • Emily
    • July 28th, 2010

    Great post as always, Mara. BUT I fear that we are neglecting the most disquieting aspect of Canklegate:

    “In her autobiography “Miles to Go,” Disney tween idol Miley Cyrus writes about coming to terms with her cankles.” (The Wall Street Journal)

    Miley Cyrus has an autobiography?!? And the defining struggle of her childhood has been “coming to terms with her cankles?” I’ve always thought that you need to be at least old enough to vote before you should write your memoirs. I think the fact that cankles are such a central plot-line of Miley’s magnum opus proves my point.

    Oh, and I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that Rachel on Friends (Jennifer Aniston) didn’t actually have cankles…

    • Eileen
    • July 28th, 2010

    Ignoring the issue for a moment: You’ve never heard of cankles? Does this mean you didn’t watch Tina Fey’s first appearance as Sarah Palin, when Amy Poehler-as-Hillary-Rodham-Clinton directed the audience to “stop saying I have cankles”?

    But I agree about the gym thing. I absolutely hate how I look at Yates – come on, I’m sweaty, I’m wearing no makeup, my hair is a mess, and I’m practically naked. I’m pretty comfortable with my body at this point in my life (most of the time), but I’m a little bit horrified at the idea that not only am I being noticed and mocked but someone may be perpetuating the mocking. (And yes, I just examined my own ankles)

    I mean, I’m pretty sure everyone does a little comparing – hard not to, if you ever go in the locker room – and while it’s a bit mean to mock someone privately with your friends, we’re all a little bit mean sometimes. But Vox follows an awful lot of Georgetown students on Twitter. I find it hard to believe that there was actually nothing funnier this week.

    PS You can blame the Twitterer, too, a little, since he allowed Vox to publish his tweet on the site.

    • Paris
    • July 30th, 2010

    If a woman wants to avoid cankles, leggings are the last thing she should be wearing!

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