I caught a ten-year-old girl checking out my legs the other day.
I’m determined to keep living like it’s summer as long as the weather will allow me, so I was happily strolling through the 90-degree heat in my shortest shorts, feeling warm sun swirl like silk around my naked thighs. Joy.
I stepped into a coffee shop to get something cold and caffeinated before I headed to the train, and as I stood waiting at the far end of the counter, someone about the height of my elbow sidled up next to me. I glanced down in time to see her curly puff of a ponytail whipping away from me as she turned her head, but she quickly darted her eyes back towards me. She stared at my exposed legs for a minute before her eyes flicked nervously up to my face, where my smile was waiting. She froze for a moment before she managed a small smile and a whispered, “Hi.”
I said hi back, and complimented her very cool pink and black sandals. She was wearing black leggings, and a long pink top, matching pink hair tie. Super cute. Her typical ten-year-old belly curved under her shirt, and I saw that she had a matching little sister sitting on her mother’s hip a few feet behind her. Her younger sister, however, wore black shorts instead of leggings.
She was staring at my legs again. Trying not to laugh, I caught her mother’s eye, and we exchanged your-kid-is-so-cute-thank-you! smiles. Their drinks came up to the counter, and the family prepared to head out into the heat. Frowning out at the brightly beaming sun, the girl pursed her lips around a sigh. “Ok, come on,” her mother called, and the girl looked at my legs once again, then up at me.
“I like your shorts,” she said, smiling shyly once more.
“Thanks! I love them. They’re so comfy when it’s hot out.”
She trotted out after her mother, turning to wave bye. I saw them standing on the sidewalk, waiting for the light to change, and watched the girl pull at the fabric clinging to her legs. She looked back at me again, but turned away quickly when she saw me watching.
The girl reminded me so much of my own summers as a kid. I had stopped wearing shorts when I was even younger than her, at first being told and very soon believing that my legs were too fat and unsightly to be exposed in the summer. I almost never wore shorts above the knee until I was nearly an adult – I bought a pair at the urging of some middle school friends on a trip to the mall once, but my mother confiscated them and threw them away when she saw that they were actually short. I spent most of high school in a pair of baggy jeans I stole from the recesses of my brother’s closet. I took to swimming in knee-length board shorts, as girls in my class shared tips on thigh gaps and running to stay thin. Skirts or dresses, when I still wore them, had to fall just below the knee, because I was convinced that the place where my thighs met my knees was too disgusting and offensive to be exposed to anyone. Even as I hated the clinging heat of long pants in the hot summer, I felt that I needed to hide my unsightly body as best I could. It was never hidden enough, of course.
I don’t know what this adorable kid was thinking as she checked out my shorts and my bared legs. I have gotten all kinds of reactions since I started wearing shorts again – everything from appreciation to lust to disgust. On my way to the train, I admired my legs in every window I passed. They had once been a pale, sickly yellow that I was sure I would never be able to tan-out, but I love their brown gleam now. I love the smush of my thighs meeting; I even love the jiggle when I walk, because it reminds me of the softness that I cherish in myself. Again, I can’t know what the girl in the coffee shop was thinking, but I remember what I thought every time I saw someone in shorts when I was younger: I wish…but those are not for me.
I don’t have a perfect relationship with myself, or my legs. I don’t love every inch of me, every day. But I wish I could tell ten-year-old me that bare legs and warm sun and short shorts are in her future, that they are totally for us.
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