Loathe your legs, ladies? You're in great company: As Helen Mirren parades her less than perfect pins, ex-model SANDRA HOWARD sympathises 

Daring to bare: Helen Mirren on a US TV show

Daring to bare: Helen Mirren on a US TV show

Good legs are the measure of elegance in a woman. If you’ve got the kind of legs that look as fabulous in a pair of shorts on holiday as they do in a cocktail dress, you’re set for life.

Men will fall at your feet, doors will open for you, and you’ll never have any trouble looking good on the red carpet, should the occasion arise.

Sadly, none of the above applies to me.

My legs are my very worst feature. Knobbly knees, chunky ankles, skin that’s growing more veined and mottled by the day. They’re the absolute bane of my life. And they always have been.

Ever since I was a model in the Sixties and Seventies, I have envied women with perfect pins. I used to watch them strutting along the catwalk and parading around photoshoots looking like giraffes with their long, graceful stride.

There I’d be, shying behind them, hiding my stubby legs in trousers.

Even when I was featured on the cover of Vogue, I remember looking at the image and feeling a pang of disappointment — why did my legs look so utterly terrible? I dreamed of having a set of pins that men drooled over, but my sturdy pair simply didn’t have that allure.

So, I couldn’t have been more gratified to see Helen Mirren, the style icon of older women everywhere — and I imagine not an insignificant number of men — showing off legs that were, shall we say, less than perfect on an American TV chat show earlier this week.

The 69-year-old actress appeared on Late Night With Seth Meyers, looking every inch the sexagenarian glamourpuss in a striped knee-length skirt and grey satin jacket with a statement collar.

Her ice-blonde hair was beautifully coiffed and her make-up immaculate, but the stunning effect tapered off as the camera panned down. For once it wasn’t Helen’s beauty that caught the eye — sadly, it was her somewhat disappointing legs.

Helen rarely shows off her legs, and now I can see why. Though her thighs were modestly covered by the skirt, it was hard not to gawp at what emerged from beneath the hem.

Her knees were bony, her calves chunky and her ankles had a touch of the — dare I say it — dreaded ‘cankle’ (when the ankle seems as wide as the calf).

I am sure I speak for so many other women when I say that I adore Helen Mirren and how she stands up for mature glamour. But I took great comfort in seeing that at least one, tiny, part of her isn’t as flawless as the rest. I’m relieved I’m not the only one to lack a set of finely turned ankles.

Every woman has parts of her body that she hates and my horror spot has always been the same. Though I am tall — 5ft 8in — most of my height comes from my torso, which is rather long, whereas my legs are far stubbier and shorter than you would expect.

When I started modelling, in my late teens, I realised how troublesome my lower legs were. I’d see them in photos and wonder how they’d managed to make them look so big and ugly. On bad days, I couldn’t bear to look at them.

I didn’t get to choose the clothes I wore for shoots, so I’d jump for joy when they put me in trousers — and when I had to wear a skirt, I learned to stand with one leg behind the other, which I found to be more flattering. Photographs from the waist up were the best.

Self-conscious: Sandra Howard shows off her legs in 2005
Out in a skirt in her modelling days

Self-conscious: Sandra Howard shows off her legs in 2005, left, and seen out in her modelling days, right

Still, today, when someone is taking a snap of me at a family do, I’ll beg them to come closer and miss out the legs. Once, in 1965, Women’s Realm magazine flew me to Kenya for a bathing suit shoot with another British model. The photographer knew I was self-conscious about my legs, so we started doing the pictures in the sea.

We did a few shots dipping our toes in the water, and by the end we were standing in the water up to our knees. Our lower legs didn’t show in a single shot — it was wonderful!

I have spent a lot of time examining my legs in the mirror, front and back, and trying to figure out exactly what it is about them that I dislike. My ankles aren’t the thinnest and my knees are lumpy and bumpy.

Beautiful: Model Gisele is known for her long legs

Beautiful: Model Gisele is known for her long legs

As I get older, the skin on my calves is developing veins and dark patches. But it’s hard to pick out one thing — I think it’s the whole package I dislike.

In the fashion world, a model’s legs can make or break her reputation. Women like Jane Fonda, Iman, Gisele and Heidi Klum are all known for their long, beautiful pins.

Others, like me, have had to rely on other body parts — such as a good upper body and a nice smile — to get ahead.

When I left modelling in my 30s, it was great because I could finally choose what I wore — and the legs went back under wraps.

I have always been more comfortable slobbing around in jeans or trousers than dresses. Skinny jeans are perfect, especially the ones with a bit of stretch in them, as you can get the illusion of a good leg if you don’t have one.

These days, I try to avoid calf-length dresses, as they draw attention to my lower leg. I think Helen was quite brave to wear a knee-length skirt — they can be the worst. Something slightly more tailored, falling just below the knee, would have been far more flattering.

Shoes, too, are a challenge for women who have issues with their legs. I find a good mid-height heel — something from LK Bennett or Emma Hope — is the best.

They’re incredibly hard to find, as most are too low (making legs look stumpy) or too high (tottering never looks good), so when I do get my hands on a good pair, I buy two and wear them to death. You can really depend on a good shoe to be kind to the leg.

Now, at 75, I still brave bare legs in summer. If the heatwave continues, I might even consider getting them out in April — that really would be a record for me.

As I’ve aged, my legs don’t tan as well, so I slather on some self-tan to help bring a bit of colour to them. A good brown skin tone hides all the little spots and blemishes that I despise.

Keeping your feet in good shape helps, too. I always paint my toenails bright orange — in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Helen was wearing something similar under her sophisticated grey suede heels. It keeps me feeling young and is a welcome distraction away from the rest of the leg.

Airline socks — the thin, elasticated kind that help prevent swelling and deep vein thrombosis during a long flight — have been a saviour in my later years. I put a pair on if I have to spend a day at my desk: it stops my legs swelling up in the heat and keeps circulation going smoothly.

My husband, Michael, can’t understand my problem with my legs. He says they’re just lovely for a woman of my age. And many men may think the same about Helen Mirren’s.

She has always been confident in her appearance, and I’m sure she’s not worried in the slightest that her legs — in her own memorable words — ‘look like Gazza’s’.

Good for her. And now at least I know that she’s not completely perfect.

So, Helen, I’m delighted that my less-than-lovely legs are in such good company. Next time I see you looking like a bombshell half your age in a sexy red bikini, maybe I won’t feel quite so insecure. 


Carol Vorderman likes to show off her curves but her pins lack definition
Liz Hurley has a toned body with legs more sporty than slender
It’s a no, Cheryl! Those strappy sandals just emphasise your cankles

Carol Vorderman (left) likes to show off her curves but her pins lack definition; Liz Hurley has a toned body with legs more sporty than slender (centre); Cheryl's strappy sandals just emphasise her cankles (right)

Pint-sized West End star Elaine Paige and her dimply knees
A below-the-knee skirt would be far more flattering on Fern Britton
6ft tall Jerry Hall’s famously long legs are surprisingly muscly

Pint-sized West End star Elaine Paige and her dimply knees (left); A below-the-knee skirt would be far more flattering on Fern Britton (centre); 6ft tall Jerry Hall’s famously long legs are surprisingly muscly (right)

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