This is the story of how I one day wore shorts in public and didn’t simultaneously combust. This fact is disappointing to me because it would have made for excellent essay content for my future memoir. Seriously, imagine it. I Wore My Shorts and Caught on Fire: And Other Ridiculous Things by Chantal Johnson
I’m bummed that my tale of recently wearing shorts in public is completely normal, however, it’s still important to me. What could have been another day of denying the discomfort I have in anything that shows skin, turned into a pretty badass day.
My childhood was filled with these kinds of days. Those of the badass nature, that is. The playground was my kingdom and I ruled. Body image at that time was, “Mom, I don’t like straight-legged jeans. Could you please buy me the flared jeans?” As you can tell, my early 2000s priorities were very intact. After style, comfort presented itself without a care in the world. The seasons would change swiftly and after flared jeans, I donned shorts and tank tops and sandals and bathing suits—whatever I wanted. The hesitation didn’t exist yet.
I remember the first time I started to care about what someone else thought of me. It was in the 4th grade and my mother had graciously spent her money on a Spongebob Squarepants t-shirt that I had to have. I wore it immediately and proudly the next day only to have my confidence bitten by some chump who said my shirt was “stupid.” Hell yeah he was probably jealous or had a crush on me, so that’s how he projected his confusing Fourth Grade Feelings for Fourth Grade Me. But Fourth Grade Me didn’t have my current intellectual capacity, so I played it off with a shrug and strategically never wore that shirt again.
Beyond the Spongebob Squarepants Fourth Grade Debacle, other things started to happen. In 6th grade, there was my period and learning how to cover that up. In 7th grade, there were boobs, and learning how to cover those up. Boys knew what they were now and I couldn’t take any chances. And in 8th grade, there was plus size clothing and learning how to cover that up.
High school was a full-blown battlefield of puberty and budding relationships that I took no part in. Unless, however, we can count a failed relationship that I knew would eventually involve some physical aspect, so I put a stop to that real quick. I learned to navigate it all by drowning myself in clothing that didn’t fit—Oversized T-Shirt Chic, you could call it. Hoping that what was internal was enough, I kept covering, hiding, and hoping that my body was always on the back burner of everyone’s thoughts. I had jokes and a ridiculous sense of humor to keep my friends close and enough knowledge to keep my mouth shut around those who weren’t my friends.
There was a shift in college and while I’d kept my self-consciousness at bay for 18 years, able to be in some control, it was finally pricked and prodded. Attacked by the seemingly “perfect” bodies of fellow students, the healthy lifestyles that I knew nothing about, and the mold of beauty standards I just didn’t fit, I let myself lose. I lost the kingdom of the elementary school playground and took on the role of a dunce. I lost the drive to overcome and instead, let myself go. I allowed the screwed up ideals of our society to leave me hopeless in this sense of falseness. I, at one point in life, had a sense of who I was and it had nothing to do with my looks. Then, I didn’t have a clue anymore.
Luckily between the end of college and now, I’d be given the pleasant exposure of body positive images and blogs. Images and writings from people who looked like me encouraged and celebrated me. Helped me understand that thin bodies are not the only healthy bodies and that it was okay to be comfortable in my own skin. It was okay to not cover up.
Which brings me to the marvelous Non-Combusting Shorts Wearing Day. The sun burned and shined bright, not a cloud was in the sky on this April afternoon. I was off to run errands in a matter of minutes, and I had to decide whether I would sweat to death or let it all hang out. It was a decision I’d made many times before, always going with the former. It was simultaneously comfortable and uncomfortable to cover up. I could go about my business without worrying about my body, but the sweat accumulation and jeans rubbing together? I could do without.
I wish I had the secret to why I chose to wear shorts this one afternoon. What seems like common sense to others, this day would always stay with me. I’d spent years hiding my thighs, my arms, my everything. I stood in front of my mirror, and for once was overcome with joy and determination. The old pair of khaki shorts slid right on, without a struggle, fitting better than I’d imagined they would. The previous voices in my head that would usually scream at me were abnormally quiet and while I was terrified, I knew it was now or never.
I walked down the aisles of our local Target with my cousin, expecting for all eyes to be on me. My thighs were out. They were in plain view and I’d made this decision on my own! Instead of pitchforks and uproar, which was an outcome I’d imagined, no one paid attention to me. No one pointed and laughed, and if someone was offended, this was unaware to me. I walked about the store feeling average, yet accomplished. Negative body image put a stress on my mental state for so long, that a simple task like showing my legs felt extraordinary. To those reading this and still struggling with wearing their shorts or tank tops or bathing suits—I feel you. There will still always be those voices in my head, but they’re a little quieter now. Find your way to uncover, even if it’s a small victory. I promise you won’t combust.