This is the first summer I’ve worn shorts since I was 16 years old—and let’s just say, a lot of birthdays have happened since then.
Perhaps part of the reason I suffered in long pants, goes all the way back to my first job.
It was at a movie theater and Jason, Sonni, and Nick would stand at the front entrance, ripping tickets and waiting to clean the next theater. They’d also watch and critique the teenage girls who walked by.
“Cheese…Who wants some cheese?” Jason would shout to his friends, loud enough for our coworkers to hear but out of earshot of the gals passing by. I guess Jason didn’t know he’d one day grow up into a respectable father of two girls, who adores his wife and never objectifies anyone.
“Cottage cheese with fries,” Nick would say and shudder, as if he could barely control the disgust. I’d shudder a little on the inside, too, as cellulite is genetic, not a choice. If my legs weren’t smooth as a baby’s butt—but wait, babies have dimples too—then smooth as a genetic mutant with liposuction, I feared I would be deemed less than perfect. At 16, being “perfect” is a lot of pressure to put on yourself, but I did.
Then Becky would walk by. She was naturally thin and probably under the accepted BMI < link? for health, having not grown into her lanky figure yet. Her frame was thinner than a traditionally recommended weight, but probably just how she was. The boys would talk about her all the time. What I and likely others saw as unrealistically thin, they said was “perfect,” which my insecure teenage mind turned into my body being a hot mess.
Of course, I grew up, too. Through learning, acceptance, and time, I got over most of my body issues and realized that true beauty comes from within. However, my hatred of shorts persisted until June this year.
“It’s not that they look bad, they look fine…” my teenage daughter explained at my new adult version of black denim short-shorts, “But you do realize that most moms don’t wear those,” she said, innocently, not realizing the freedom I felt parading down the Trader Joes aisle not caring what people think.
This summer has been particularly hot.
“I know, sweetie, but I’m rebelling against the judgment I put on myself all those years,” I explained to my junior feminist in training.
“Yeah, but Mom,” she cautioned, already 10 steps ahead of where I was at her age, “Just don’t compare yourself to teenagers.”
My tween son looked at the shorts the other day and asked, “Mom, sure you want to wear those?”
“Why? You think they look bad because I’m an adult?” I joked, ready to stand up to even the pint-sized body shamers I love. “Not on you. They just look bad on everyone. No one should wear shorts that short!” he insisted.
For the record, they really aren’t that short.
It’s just that when you have a mother who spends her entire life being too modest and body conscious to wear shorts, even regular length shorts—which brush the fingertips at my side—seem surprising.
I can’t think of any particular inspiration besides, of all things, Instagram. Often, I come across body positive posts. I like them and somehow their “live and let live” attitude about women’s bodies has rubbed off on me.
It doesn’t matter that I am not nearly as in shape as when I stopped teaching yoga a year ago, that I have a baby and my only real workouts are walking him about in a stroller. What matters is that I don’t want to spend the next decade afraid of letting people see my legs.
The most important lesson I learned in all my years of not wearing shorts, is to accept yourself first and foremost.
“Perfect” isn’t dressing in what other people want or expect, or avoiding perceived judgment or humiliation. Perfect is being you, free, in cool, airy clothing when it’s hot outside and bulky, warm sweaters when you need to warm up.
Free is Becky being 16 and tall and slender without trying. Free is me wearing short shorts as an adult in August, because it’s sunny outside.
Author: Jen Donnell
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Sara Kärpänen
Copy Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Social Editor: Nicole Cameron