Writer April Long tracks her jour­ney to pin per­fec­tion

ELLE (Australia) - - Beauty -

There were, in ret­ro­spect, a few in­di­ca­tions that maybe my legs were never ex­actly spec­tac­u­lar. The time, for ex­am­ple, my Jor­dan Cata­la­noesque school crush looked me up and down and said, “You don’t have calves. You have cows.” Or the mo­ment my sis­ter and I, teenagers on our first trip to Europe, stood in front of Michelan­gelo’s “David”, ad­mir­ing the statue’s mag­nif­i­cent physique, and she said, “He has legs like yours.” Then, clock­ing my con­fu­sion: “You have legs like a man.”

Still, I never felt so much as a shadow of in­se­cu­rity about my lower limbs. What mat­tered to me was what they could do: I was the fastest run­ner in my grade; I could swim fur­ther and climb higher than vir­tu­ally any­one else I knew. If asked, I would have said I looked pretty fetch­ing in a mini-skirt, even though I recog­nised that my solidly built legs pos­sessed an en­tirely dif­fer­ent aesthetic than the slen­der, per­fectly shaped gams of my mother and sis­ter.

I didn’t par­tic­u­larly mind when, in my early thir­ties, the skin on my shins be­gan to tes­tify to decades of SPF de­nial with a sprin­kling of freck­les, or even when I saw the first wrin­kle creas­ing my kneecap like a per­ma­nent wink (that’s go­ing to hap­pen to leg hinges, right?). But then one day I found my­self in the un­for­giv­ing flu­o­res­cent glare of a depart­ment store change room, try­ing on a thigh-skim­ming dress, and re­alised that some­thing more ne­far­i­ous had hap­pened: it was as if some mass from the up­per part of my thigh had gone fwump – and landed on my patella. I peered closer. Were those dim­ples? I pinched and pulled, feel­ing a twinge of panic. Is knee cel­lulite even a thing?

So I low­ered my hems and upped my barre, started do­ing squats while dry­ing my hair ev­ery morn­ing and pum­melled my knees nightly with slim­ming creams. I longed to go to the Leg School at the Capri Palace in Italy, where ex­trem­i­ties are mas­saged with ice-cold mar­ble stones and packed in cool mud un­til they emerge, sylph-like, free of bumps and bloat. In­stead, I bought sev­eral pairs of opaque black tights. As the wrin­kles pro­lif­er­ated and the bul­bous­ness grew more bul­bous, I be­gan to re­alise I could lunge my way to the moon and back, and it would make no dif­fer­ence. Which is how I found my­self stand­ing in the min­i­mal­ist of­fice of der­ma­tol­o­gist Dr Mis­bah Khan with no pants on.

I had read about a “knee con­tour­ing” pro­ce­dure Khan had de­vel­oped – in­volv­ing mul­ti­ple resur­fac­ing and tight­en­ing lasers and, when needed, small amounts of fat trans­fer – and had hoped, to be hon­est, that when I went in for a con­sul­ta­tion, she’d take one look at my legs and tell me I was suf­fer­ing from some kind of lo­calised dys­mor­phia. In­stead, when I pulled off my jeans for the big re­veal, she sim­ply nod­ded and said, “I see ex­actly what you’re talk­ing about.” The bulges, the creases and the dim­ples (“puck­er­ing”, she calls it, not knee cel­lulite) were all caused, she said, by an age- and sun dam­age-re­lated loss of un­der­ly­ing soft tis­sue in my lower thigh, which was caus­ing the whole area to slump. “There are five pock­ets of fat around the knee,” she said, tap­ping her way around my patella, “and over time, they kind of pro­lapse. The three on top be­gin to rest on the knee, so you see heav­i­ness and folds when you stand up. And the bot­tom two be­come more pro­nounced and start to stick out. So the knee loses its beauty and its ar­chi­tec­ture.”

Legs can be chal­leng­ing for ex­perts to treat be­cause, der­ma­tol­o­gist Dr Den­nis Gross says, “the skin on the body is more re­sis­tant to firm­ing than the skin on the face.” Gross, who uses com­bi­na­tion laser ther­apy and in-of­fice peels to keep leg skin smooth and free of Uv-caused dis­coloura­tion, says that while fat pock­ets can be dis­solved with de­vices such as Sculp­sure, “there’s noth­ing great yet for lax­ity on the body, as far as de­vices go. There’s a de­mand for it, but no com­pany has re­ally cracked the code and brought any­thing to mar­ket.” Knees, specif­i­cally, are no­to­ri­ously tricky. The skin is thin and sub­ject to con­stant move­ment; a nip/tuck would show ev­i­dent scars un­less very well done. To make mat­ters worse, “ev­ery­one’s knees age

dif­fer­ently,” Khan says. “If you’re very skinny ver­sus some­one who’s heav­ier, ver­sus some­body like you, who ex­er­cises a lot but has a lot of sun dam­age – it all af­fects the way the knees look and the way we’re go­ing to treat them.” Even though I’m told it’s go­ing to be painful, there may be more than a month of re­cov­ery and it might not make a big dif­fer­ence, I sign up. What’s the harm in try­ing to make things bet­ter be­fore they in­evitably get worse?

When I re­turn for the pro­ce­dure, it goes like this: af­ter numb­ing my legs with li­do­caine in­jec­tions from mid-thigh to mid-calf, Khan siphons out a small amount of fat from the bulges sit­ting atop my knees with a can­nula, then triple pu­ri­fies it in a ster­ile Pure­graft bag (“I call it liq­uid gold,” she says, show­ing me the fat’s mus­tard-yel­low colour – and, to my surprise, I do not gag). Then she rein­jects it into the ar­eas above my knees that need more sup­port – to lift the wrin­kles and dis­pel the div­ots – as well as be­hind the wrin­kles them­selves, for ex­tra smooth­ing. When that’s done, we move to an­other room for laser treat­ment: a quick pass of frac­tional CO₂, which should re­build deep col­la­gen over the next few months, fol­lowed by a blast of resur­fac­ing Fraxel. The en­tire process takes about four hours, and it sounds much, much worse than it ac­tu­ally is. Af­ter­wards, she sends me home with in­struc­tions to keep my legs el­e­vated, take an­tibi­otics for three days, avoid ex­er­cise for two weeks and try not to be afraid of any­thing I see in the mir­ror for at least six weeks. “Your skin will be bruised, dry, icky and red,” she says. “It’ll be a while be­fore it looks pretty.” As I heal, I vow never again to ne­glect my pre­cious stems – to keep them out of the sun and treat them with the same vig­i­lant TLC with which I treat my face. Gross sug­gests look­ing for the same ac­tive in­gre­di­ents in body prod­ucts that you would seek out in anti-age­ing skin­care, since, he says, “you’re see­ing the ex­act same changes on the body – the loss of col­la­gen and nat­u­ral hyaluronic acid – as you do on the face. In both cases, the goal is to pro­tect col­la­gen, so top­i­cal vi­ta­min C is ex­cel­lent.” Der­ma­tol­o­gist Dr An­nie Chiu sug­gests “mix­ing a small amount of retinol with leg mois­turiser and ap­ply­ing it be­fore bed. This will fight off crepey skin and un­even­ness for years to come.”

Reg­u­lar ex­fo­li­a­tion is also key to keep­ing gams look­ing gleamy and feel­ing silky – “es­pe­cially in sum­mer,” Gross says, “when the body re­acts to ul­tra­vi­o­let light by cre­at­ing more dead skin as a bar­rier.” His at-home Al­pha Beta Glow Pads mimic the skin-smooth­ing ef­fects of his in-of­fice peel, while also im­part­ing an im­per­fec­tion-blur­ring hint of colour. Chiu rec­om­mends “us­ing prod­ucts with gly­colic or lac­tic acid to help dis­solve the dead, dulling skin cells that lead to ashy, scaly, less-than-baby-soft legs.” (If you’re pressed for time, she adds, “sim­ply try swap­ping out your body wash for one that con­tains gly­colic acid.”) For an ev­ery­day beach-ready bod, she en­cour­ages a pre-shower buff with a dry brush, “which in­creases cir­cu­la­tion and tem­po­rar­ily plumps the skin for an even, less dim­ply ap­pear­ance,” as well as “body creams that con­tain pep­tides, which can give a firmer ap­pear­ance to legs.”

For the first 24 hours af­ter Khan’s min­is­tra­tions, my knees are like some­thing out of a hor­ror movie, pur­pled with bruises and ooz­ing li­do­caine from the in­jec­tion sites. Af­ter a week, the bruises turn yel­low, and cir­cu­lar red blotches ap­pear from the lasers. By the third week, some of the swelling sub­sides, so they be­gin to vaguely re­sem­ble nor­mal ap­pendages, but the lasered ar­eas have started to itch like crazy, and they’re still ex­tremely sore. I keep for­get­ting, ac­ci­den­tally cross­ing my legs – ouch! And get­ting into the com­pres­sion tights Khan rec­om­mended is a mor­ti­fy­ing phys­i­cal bat­tle that, if filmed, would go vi­ral. Af­ter six weeks, the red­ness dis­ap­pears, and I can fi­nally stand back and as­sess. My kneecaps are still a tad puffy, but the over­all ef­fect is a vast im­prove­ment. When I go in to see Khan, she’s as de­lighted as I am. The trans­planted fat seems to be set­tling in nicely and, she says, although there’s still some wrin­kling (which may merit an­other blast of Fraxel in a few weeks), “the skin tex­ture is a lot smoother, mak­ing your legs look so much health­ier.”

She’s right. Health­ier is the word. My legs look pret­tier, firmer. Not nec­es­sar­ily younger, but I’ve come to re­alise that maybe that doesn’t mat­ter. Age­ing is in­evitable, and there’s noth­ing to lament about show­ing signs of it (es­pe­cially in a place you can cover with a skirt). Af­ter hav­ing treated them with kid gloves for two months – care­ful not to bang them, lav­ish­ing them with mois­turis­ers – I’ve gone back to ap­pre­ci­at­ing my legs not for the way they look, but for the power they pos­sess. They’ve car­ried me for­ward – through jun­gles, up moun­tains, across deserts, on hun­dreds of great ad­ven­tures. I may never have the lithe, short shorts-wor­thy limbs of a dancer – or even the Bey’s knees – but my legs are beau­ti­ful, just the same.

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