What Happened When I Finally Stepped Out In Shorts

There are two things I know when it comes to bodies: Learning to be body positive is hard, but also an empowering demonstration of courage. And when you figure out how to embrace body positivity, well, it's a game changer. My story is one about hating shorts, and it starts on a Saturday. Picnic tables were blanketed with red-checkered tablecloths, sangria pitchers, red and white Jell-O stars, and hot dogs with no mustard. Everyone was ready with their red cups in hand, their coyotes howling at American flag T-shirts, and their easy smiles that could only come with a three-day weekend.

So where was I? I was still in front of my closet, feeling the first licks of impatience set in, trying to will my wardrobe to work with me just once. Just. This. Once. It was going to be one of those patriotic summer affairs, so naturally I wanted something festive and patriotic, too. I was slightly dismayed to notice that all I had on my hangers was navy or gray. When, exactly, did I turn into a black-and-white movie? Ignoring the text message buzzes from my phone, I danced from one foot to the other, trying to will something with stripes and stars to come out.

But the thing was, I did have something to wear, I was just steadfastly ignoring it. As it quickly became clear that I was all out of options, I let out a defeated whine as I glanced at it, sitting all neat and folded on my top shelf:

The red short shorts.

Although I’m all about body positivity and finding your lines and curves just as beautiful as gaps and edges, it takes a while to deprogram what you’ve been learning since you bought your first training bra. I completely know that being "skinny" doesn't have to be my priority in life, but every time I slip into a hemline that hits mid-thigh, I don’t even glance at the mirror before deciding it’s not for me. It’s hard to unlearn this idea that pretty equals a certain waist size and calories consumed, when all it actually equals is something different to everyone. Learning to love yourself is a process, and I’m being proactive about getting there. But the thing was, I wasn't quite there yet.

You could only imagine my trepidation when I realized these shorts — these butt-skimming, belly button hiding shorts — were my only option.“I’m going to look like friggin Betty Boop on holiday,” I mumbled to myself as I zipped them up, not glancing in the mirror as I went to go locate my left sandal somewhere under the bed. “I’m not 18 for God's sake; I can’t be walking around with my pockets sticking out from underneath my pants. I feel like Britney Spears going to a gas station.”

And so the tantrum went on, with me preparing myself to be self-conscious and uncomfortable in my body the whole day. I was going to have a side of negativity with my sangria this afternoon, and it was apparently exactly what I wanted.

I mulled over this as I walked to the bus stop, certain people were staring at my Viking legs. I was waiting for the Hammer of Thor to fall out of the sky for me to catch. As I watched the bus roll up, I braced myself for the way my thighs would grow to the size of Alaska the second I sat down. Leaving my sunglasses on, I was ready for it.

And then, I had a moment of surprise. Nervous, I quickly shot a glance down to see the damage and was taken aback. Yes, my thighs have pancaked out, but instead of being this alarming, offensive thing that was drilled into my head since day one, they were just...thighs. All I could see was a set of sun-tanned legs, with four freckles that looked like the Big Dipper right above one knee. They weren’t a source of self-hate or a work in progress. They were just a 26-year-old woman’s set of stems.

I was so shocked with the absence of mean thoughts that I took off my sunglasses and simply stared. Not one word came. Not one disappointed “ugh,” nor one locker room jibe. Instead, I kind of felt hot with all this summer skin out in the open for the world to see.

In fact, I liked it. Somewhere along the way, the positivity I’ve been seeking out and surrounding myself with has rubbed off. The truth was starting to outweigh the false mirrors. There, at 1:37 p.m. — an hour late to my friend’s barbecue — on the bus headed to Lakeshore Drive, I came to the realization that I liked the look of my thighs. I finally liked the way my body felt.

I got off that bus with a semi-cocky strut in my step. These legs weren’t "pins," but I couldn’t deny how good they looked filled out. My game had changed.

While I still have days during which I wish a certain lump wasn't there, I'm now self-aware enough to know that is not my voice in my head. It's a faceless, nameless one that's been there since day one and that has been lying to me and hurting me for some unknown reason.

So what I want to leave you with is this: Keep unlearning what you’ve thought you've known since you could put on your mother’s lipstick. There is no correct size. There is no one beautiful size. There will be days when you look at yourself in the bathroom mirror and find yourself frowning, regardless of how much you believe in body positivity. But just know there will come a moment — maybe on a bus, maybe in line for tacos, maybe in the middle of walking to the elevator — when you’ll let it all click. Just keep unlearning.

Images: Marlen Komar