A few weekends ago, my husband convinced me to go with him to a Pokèmon Go community day event (yes, some of us are still playing). We roamed our old college campus in a never-ending quest to catch ’em all on an Indiana day so hot and sticky it was like living in the Devil’s buttcrack (usually being in Indiana is just like living in a regular buttcrack). I wore the thinnest garment I own, a maxi dress that is really meant to be a bathing suit cover, but it was no match for the intense heat. I sweated off my stick-on bra. It was not cute. I saw many women on campus in mini dresses and shorts, and I was envious of their ability to let their legs breathe.
I had stopped wearing shorts after my first year of middle school. My leg braces were a constant embarrassment to me at a time I just wanted to blend in, so I hid them year-round. Even when I ended up in my wheelchair and stopped wearing braces, I hid my legs because they’re atrophied and I hated the way they looked. Once, I was taking a break from swimming in my parents’ backyard pool when my brother brought some friends over. I was stranded at the back patio table, keeping my legs hidden for over an hour, waiting for them to leave before I would make my way back to the house. My legs were always a secret, sacred and only to be revealed to people I trusted and loved.
After our Pokèmon Go excursion that afternoon, we had plans to visit my sister at her new permanent spot at a campground in Modoc, Indiana. When we pulled up, my sister walked into view wearing denim shorts, a white tank top, and white Keds. She looks so cute, I thought to myself. I didn’t even register her leg braces. I didn’t think she looked out of place, or even that she was brave for showing her braces. I just thought she looked good. Something shifted in that moment. Why had I been making such a big fucking deal about this? Why had I been suffering summer after summer in the sweltering heat? Who told me I wasn’t allowed to show my legs? I had accepted being disabled, sure, but accepting my body hasn’t come all at once. It comes in little moments of clarity every day, and this was a big one.
My sister invited us back to the campground the week of the Fourth of July, and I was determined to show up in shorts. For the first time ever, I didn’t filter out the option while I was shopping online. It was so much fun. Instead of longingly scrolling past bare-legged models, wishing I could wear what they were advertising, I clicked the images and added items to my cart. In all, I purchased four pairs. They were final sale clearance. No going back. When I was through, I flipped to Instagram and one of my favorite writers,Ashley C. Ford, had posted a photo of herself with bare legs, telling her followers that it was too hot to be self-conscious about what we look like in shorts. Her confidence boosted my own, and I suddenly couldn’t wait for my new clothes to arrive.
A week later, I was almost feral tearing open the package. Each pair I tried on made me smile at my reflection. I couldn’t believe that not only did they all fit, but that I felt confident and beautiful with them on. I slipped on the last pair just as my husband and I were about to go on our daily walk in the park, and I decided to leave them on. Instead of cautiously testing the waters by wearing shorts exclusively around my family first, I dove into the deep end and wore them in public.
“What if people make fun of me?” I asked my husband on the drive, only half kidding.
“Then I’ll beat ’em up,” he replied, patting my exposed thigh, fully kidding.
At the park, exactly nothing happened. People stared the same amount they always do. The only difference is that I was comfortable. Sweat wasn’t pooling at the back of my knees, I could feel the breeze on my freshly-shaved legs. After a lap around the park, I wasn’t even thinking about it any more. Nearly a lifetime of insecurity gone in under a mile. I couldn’t stop smiling.
The next week, on a day of record-breaking heat, I arrived at my sister’s campground, and saw her wearing the adorable denim shorts. Only this time, I was wearing a pair, too. Later that evening, while others were occupied in their own conversations, I leaned in and told her that she had inspired me to buy my first pair of shorts. I told her about the realization I had just a few weeks prior, when I first saw her donning her own.
“Right on!” she exclaimed as we high-fived.
Our story isn’t so different from everyone else. In that moment, we were just two women celebrating the acceptance of our bodies in a society that tells us we shouldn’t. Women are told we’re too fat to wear that crop top, too skinny to fill out that dress, our arms are too big for tank tops, our legs too skinny for shorts. There are entire industries built on hammering into us the idea that we’re not good enough. So when we choose to block out that noise, when we decide that not only are we good enough, but that we’re beautiful, we get our power back. Shrugging off the weight of expectation that had been laid on my shoulders brick by brick since I was a little girl has given me a buoyancy I didn’t know was possible.
No one ever told me explicitly that I wasn’t allowed to wear shorts. But they sure told me what beauty standards are, and in no uncertain terms, my body did not meet them. In the words of the incomparable Tess Holliday, eff your beauty standards. I feel beautiful in my shorts, and I think my little legs are even kinda cute. And no amount of stares in public or trolling comments online could make me think differently. Once you reclaim your power, it seems laughable that anyone would have the strength to wrench it away.
Although, if you have tips on how to keep said shorts from riding up into my crotch, I’d appreciate it. I’m new at this.