Saturday, July 25, 2009

Cankles? Really? Oh for heaven's sake!

One of the really fun things about becoming a cranky old woman is getting to have pet peeves. At last count I was up to 237.

One that is high on my list, and has been for a while, is the female obsession with making over body parts so as to look good in certain fashions. How many times have you heard a woman say her fitness goal is "tank top arms" or a "bikini belly" or a "boy short bottom"? It's not that I have a problem with esthetic goals, but to me it's just silly to focus too much on looking good in particular styles of clothing. Physique transformation takes weeks, months, or even years depending on where you're starting and what you're trying to achieve. Fashion, on the other hand, changes seemingly overnight. Why make yourself crazy trying to hit a moving target?

Of course nobody ever made a buck encouraging people to behave rationally. Hence the decision of Gold's Gym to declare July "Cankles Awareness Month" and offer a special "cankle-busting" workout at their facilities.

A "cankle," in case you're not familiar with the term, is a thick ankle that does not taper as the calf meets the foot. It first entered the lexicon via the film "Shallow Hal," which pretty much tells you all you need to know right there. Apparently if you've got cankles you can't wear gladiator sandals or cropped leggings, both of which are popular right now. Personally I think gladiator sandals are hideous on almost everyone, but lots of women seem to want to wear them, and are trying to slim down their ankles via diet, exercise and even surgery.

These strategies work, but only for women who are so significantly overweight that they have excess fat around their ankles. If it's a matter of bone structure, there is nothing that can be done to reduce the diameter of the joint. Even liposuction of the ankle--and, yes, there are doctors who perform that service--only works if there is fat to be suctioned away. If there isn't, about all a woman can do to create the look of slimmer ankles is bulk up her calves so that the ankle appears smaller by contrast. And that's not as easy as it sounds. Ask a male bodybuilder about his "lagging bodyparts" and 8 times out of 10 his calves will be the first thing he mentions. The size and shape of the calf muscle can be changed, but to expect results in time for sandal season is not realistic.

Water retention can be an issue too, and if that's the case a low-sodium diet and ample hydration may help. According to an article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal, trainer Anthony Prieschel recommends smearing ankles with hemorrhoid cream and wrapping them in ACE bandages as a temporary fix to take down swelling and edema in the area. Achilles tendinitis can cause chronic swelling as well, and if that's the issue it's worth addressing for health as well as esthetic reasons.

For the most part, though, cankles are not worth worrying about. If you've got so much extra body fat that there are rolls of it obscuring your ankles, you need a program that will get rid of it everywhere. One that targets your lower legs is a waste of your valuable time. Likewise it's a waste of time if you've got no fat in that area to lose. And if the problem is that your calf muscles are too small, you can change them but probably not in time for this summer's fashions. So, really, find something else to worry about. And if there is nothing else, get out to the beach and revel in the fabulosity you've already achieved!

In fact, do that anyway.