My Complicated Relationship with Shorts

I've previously mentioned on this blog how I was pretty much the only kid in grade school who couldn't run one mile to pass the annual fitness test. I always hated gym class, and part of the reason was because I was required to wear shorts.

I was never fat in grade school and only got heavy once I was in high school, but I am also just not a small person. I have a bigger frame and, even as a child, had bigger legs than most of my friends. I'm not sure whether I picked out short shorts to wear, or my mom did, or whether that was just the only option back then, but I wanted to cry every time I had to put them on.

One day in gym class when I was in fourth or fifth grade as we were running laps around the gym, my shorts rode up and got caught between my thighs, as they always did, and I kept yanking them down, as I always did. Behind me, I heard girls giggling as my shorts kept riding up and I kept pulling them down.

That experience--and gym class in general--pretty much scarred me for life. I never wore shorts after that unless they went down to my knees. When I had to wear shorts as part of my uniform while working at an amusement park, I got them a few sizes too big so that they came down to my knees. I did have to wear shorts when I played high school volleyball for a very short time (before getting kicked off the team because I was so bad), and I was so uncomfortable that I prayed the coach wouldn't put me in a game because I didn't want people to see me in shorts.

Fast forward to January 2011, after I'd lost 35 pounds and was four pounds below my goal weight, my lowest weight as an adult and wearing size 4 pants. Even then, I didn't even consider wearing shorts, much less try some on. Shorts were for skinny girls, and while I was thinner than I'd ever been, I still wasn't skinny. I did wear shorts on very rare occasions, but they looked like this.
The only "shorts" I would wear for most of my life

When I started running in the summer of 2011, I wore long black capris every single run. My first races in the August and September heat were wearing long black capris.
Running my first race in August in black capris (my sister is beside me).

Then, in March of 2014, I ran a race that gave out shorts to participants. I figured I would just toss them in the Goodwill bag, but curiosity got the better of me and I tried them on. I was stunned. They didn't look as bad as I thought they'd look. I wore them a few times in my house working out and even posted some pictures on this blog last year of me wearing them, which was pretty huge at the time (though I didn't point it out). Still, thinking of wearing them outside of the house in public was just too much. I just could not reconcile the image of myself in my mind with the image of myself in the mirror. It took all summer for me to work up the courage and finally--one single time--I wore them out in public to the dog park. I felt naked and uncomfortable the whole time.

In March of this year, I ran the same race and got a new pair of shorts. These were much shorter than last year's version. I rolled my eyes when I saw how short they were. I wouldn't even be able to wear them in the house, I thought. Then I tried them on. Again, they didn't look awful. And, these were short shorts.

It occurred to me at that point to try on shorts from Lululemon. Lulu's clothes have always been very flattering on me, so what would I look like in a pair of stylish, more flattering shorts? I headed to the local Lulu store to investigate. Again, I could not believe what I saw in the mirror. Not only did they look not awful, they actually looked kinda okay. Maybe even good. Plus, the shorts themselves were just fantastic. The fabric was light as air, the waistband was wide and comfortable, they made my flat butt look decent, and they just felt great on. I was in that dressing room for a long time, taking pictures and studying myself from all angles. Could I really wear shorts? Is this really going to happen? I walked out of the store with a pair of black Tracker Shorts, with a 4" inseam, to investigate more at home.

Once home, I had my husband take pictures of me in the shorts from every possible angle in every possible light. I had him take a video of me walking toward him and then a video of me running toward him. (Sidenote: My husband, bless him, would not have a bad thing to say about my body if I were twice or even three times my size. He has never understood why I won't wear shorts but was very patient with me throughout all this.) I then gathered all the pictures and watched the videos again and again. The conclusion: There was no reason I couldn't wear shorts.

The first time I wore them out in public was in May, when we took the dog for a walk on a hot weekend day. I was so uncomfortable. I got nervous whenever people passed us. My husband took some pictures of Django and me. Afterwards when I looked at them, I hated what I saw. With the way the lighting was in those pictures, my legs looked dimpled and enormous and awful. But, I had felt so cool in those shorts, so comfortable, so free. Maybe I would give them another shot.

So I wore them out again. And again. And again. I started to feel more comfortable and less conspicuous. I bought another color of the same style. And a third color. Soon, all I was wearing on hot days were shorts. All this summer I kept exclaiming to my husband how much I love wearing shorts. It's like a whole new world opening up to me.

The day finally came when I decided to run in them. I had only two miles on the schedule, so I figured I could handle running in them for that short distance. All the old discomfort came back, though. Every time I passed another runner or cyclist, I silently prayed that they wouldn't look at my legs. I worried that they were thinking "thunder thighs" as I passed them. While the shorts didn't ride up and get caught between my thighs like my nightmare shorts of grade school, they did expose the biggest parts of my thighs as I was running, and again I felt naked. I have not tried to run in them again, but I think I will at some point. I think I just need to get comfortable with the feeling of having my thighs exposed. I have tried other shorts to run in and will be posting a review soon on how they all work for someone with bigger legs like me.

My first run in shorts.
You can tell by my half-smile that I am uncomfortable.
A second run in shorts. You can see I'm a little more comfortable.

It's definitely a process to overcome a negative body image, and it's still going on. I have made huge strides and am proud of where I've come. I don't have thin or beautiful legs but, damn it, it's hot and I want to be cool and comfortable! I'm now comfortable going out in public in shorts and have even posted some pictures of myself on Instagram.

A photo posted by Jennifer Kent (@jennifer_kent) on

A photo posted by Jennifer Kent (@jennifer_kent) on

This last picture is from just two weekends ago. I'd gotten back down to just above my goal weight. My husband and I decided to sit outside in the heat because I was tired of being inside in the AC. It was so hot that I took off my top and was just wearing a bra and shorts. "This is what I'm going to wear running tomorrow," I joked. He, of course, said he saw no reason I couldn't. He then took my phone and took this picture of me. I looked at this picture all weekend. Is this really what I look like in shorts? Yes, it is. Accepting this as a truth and having the courage to wear shorts in public is a huge milestone in my life that has taken me about 30 years to achieve. My legs aren't perfect, but they're part of my body, and I am finally starting to accept and even love my body for what it is and what it does for me.

By the way, I have been working on this post for about a month. Posting these pictures of myself in shorts is difficult. I have no problems showing my belly because I have no body issues there, even though I have scars from having my gall bladder out and stretch marks from rapidly gaining a lot of weight in high school (I never edit photos of myself beyond cropping and lighting, so you can see the scars and stretch marks if you look closely). The issue is really a mental one, of overcoming a mental image I've carried of myself for 30 years. I know I'm not the only one. Courtney recently posted about a local radio personality who wore a bikini in public in busy DC to get over body image fears, and even Steff, who I would never think would have a reason to be uncomfortable in a bikini, recently posted about wearing a bikini for the first time.

I guess many of us struggle with body image. It's definitely a process to overcome, and it takes courage to go through that process. I found inspiration in Courtney and Steff's posts, and I hope that others might find inspiration in this post. I would love to hear if you have ever struggled with body image issues and how you dealt with it.

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