How I Came To Terms With Wearing Shorts

by Melissa L. Haney

I have a complex relationship with shorts. Every summer, I wait until the heat becomes absolutely unbearable before I forgo my pants to slip on the sole pair of shorts sitting at the bottom of my closet. I wait because I know that for me, putting on shorts becomes an almost impossible exercise in self-confidence. I wait because few things remind me more of how my body has changed from the times when putting on shorts wasn't an issue. I wait because wearing shorts only further proves how different my body is from the normalized image of physical — and I think particularly American — beauty. I can hide behind a pair of black jeans, but a pair of shorts leaves me fully exposed.

But I think the main reason I wait is simply because all these fears go against everything I insist on believing. I know that I shouldn't worry about external perception, I know that I should embrace my body for all of its idiosyncrasies, yet for some reason, shorts just make it so bleeping hard for me. This summer, however, I've pledged to overcome the hold a silly pair of shorts has upon my mind, knowing full well that my self-confidence (and body temperature) will be made all the better for it. It's not going to be easy, but hopefully acknowledging and subsequently destroying their power will be a good first step.

Teenage Dreams

Things weren't always like this. Growing up, I never had issues with putting on a pair of shorts. The minute temperatures rose above 70 degrees, teenage me wore shorts with reckless abandon, never once feeling self-conscious about how I looked. Cut-offs, high-rise, low-rise (it was the mid-00s after all), faded, white, printed, khaki — I wore them all.

A lot of this was due to the fact that teenage me hadn't fully developed physically yet. My legs and hips still very much ran straight up and down. I could wear any style of shorts I wanted because every style looked pretty much the same. Transitioning slowly, my body remained somewhat predictable and therefore easy to dress, and at the time, easier to accept.

Teenage me also proved a bit less affected by societal beauty standards. I was certainly aware of them — living as a girl in the states means being exposed to an incredibly rigid and limited standard of beauty almost literally from the moment of birth. Yet as a teenager, I was lucky enough to have found myself within a protective bubble of sorts, one that I utterly lamented at the time, but certainly appreciate in retrospect. For the most part, my mind and time were occupied by other things, as I was constantly reminded that these things (if I'm being honest, by "things" I mostly mean school — I was a bit of a nerd) were more important.

A Regressive Reality Check

But with college, the bubble popped. No longer hidden away and no longer immune to the changes that becoming a "grown woman" presents to a body, I grew more and more wary of wearing a pair of shorts in public. Gone were the days of carefree summer dressing, and in were the days of walking back into my apartment after deciding that the shorts I had on just weren't working for me.

In this case, a lot of this was due to a body that was indeed changing. Almost as in an act of vengeance against my relatively stagnant teenage body, once I hit my twenties, everything changed in seemingly one fail swoop. I gained weight, I got hips. I could no longer buy a pair of shorts (or of anything, really) without trying them on in those terrible torture chambers known as clothing store dressing rooms. Some didn't fit, some didn't look good.

What's more, informing me as to what "looked good" were the aforementioned beauty standards I luckily avoided for a decent amount of my formative years. Suddenly, I began second-guessing what I thought worked for my body. I started comparing myself to the (altered) images hanging in the store and plastered on the billboards right outside. My legs weren't thin enough, toned enough, tan enough — so why even try wearing shorts?

Contemplating Contradictions

Confusingly enough, I want to say it was during this time when I finally began thinking for myself. For three of the four seasons of the year, my confidence levels spiked, boosted by a near complete education, a better sense of self, and a group of friends who consistently proved that those societal beauty standards are nothing but grade-A BS. It was also a time where I grew stronger physically, beefing up my legs with muscle after taking up running as a form of stress relief, eventually running more than one 10K race and making the decision to run a marathon before I turn 30.

So with all of this newfound confidence, why was I still stressing about wearing shorts? The sheer contradiction of it made things all the more frustrating and honestly quite embarrassing. Again, I was fully aware that I was falling prey to conventional beauty standards and consequently sort of undermining all that I had come to learn and believe. I was holding myself to these standards that I knew were meaningless, but I still got upset when I didn't meet them.

(Trying To) Work It

Unsurprisingly, this summer, I finally decided that I'd had enough of all the mind games. After spending another above 80-degree day suffocated by a pair of long pants, I decided enough was enough.

I should be proud of my legs. No one will ever classify them as "pins" or "stems," but that's because I'm 5'1" and training to run a marathon — they'll always be short and hopefully they'll always be strong, defined by muscle that showcases my individual strength. They'll also be defined by the marks of cellulite, of stretch marks, and blotches of vitiligo that come as a part of living life; that serve as markers of a strength — perhaps not physical, but still of a strength nonetheless.

I can't say that come the end of the summer I'll be ready and willing to galavant around in the next Skintimate commercial. I just hope to break the hold shorts have over my summer self-confidence, because life is just entirely too short to, well, not wear shorts.

Images: Melissa L. Haney; Giphy