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I wore a short skirt today.

May 18, 2009

Something I don’t usually do. My legs are very pale, have a lot of those little red bumps on them, and generally have more fat on them than I want. I’ve just never really felt comfortable showing them off. I love wearing dresses and skirts, but I wear them more often in the winter, with tights. I own a couple pairs of shorts, but almost never wear them in public. I have been completely unwilling to show my legs in the summer for so long, I can’t really remember when it started.

I know plenty of other women who similarly don’t wear shorts, and so I’ve never really thought of it as odd, but then just this week a friend (Sara) gave me a compliment on my calves during our meeting. The compliment had to do with the strength of my calves, and how you can see the line of my leg muscles. And I took the compliment. I have always been proud of the strength of my legs. I do think my calves are attractive when I watch them as I run, or flex my muscles in yoga. I think it was one of the first time I’ve ever gotten a compliment on my legs. Which is not really surprising, seeing as I never show them off.

But I actually do wear shorts all the time. I wear them to the rec center, to go runinng, to bed. And in these spaces I am completely comfortable revealing my legs. I am proud of them when I work out, I have always had a lot of lower body strength, emphasized more from all my years of field hockey. When I run I don’t think of whether I have dry skin or am too pale. Instead, I think of my legs’ capabilities, the way they propel me forward, the length of my stride and the power held within them.

What is odd is that I can’t connect this pride when I exercise with how I feel about my legs when I get dressed for my day. What is about the separate spaces of the gym and the classroom that so completely change my feeling about my body? How come I hate my legs in a short skirt and love them in gym shorts?

I’ve thought of some possibilities. Perhaps it’s because I can connect with my body’s capacities while working out and that is where my pride in them comes from. My short skirt instead reminds me of societal expectations of what a woman should look like, how I should act, how I should control my body. I also find the rec center I go to to be a space outside of the male gaze in many ways. I am supposed to be sweaty and unattractive, or at least tell myself so, and therefore resist the feeling of the gaze on me. Walking around with so much bare skin anywhere else almost assures the feeling of this gaze, objectifying and dominating.

Because I have never found my legs attractive in non-gym spaces, however, I don’t worry about the issue of this gaze when choosing to wear my skirt. Rather, I hoped people wouldn’t look too closely so that they wouldn’t realize what they look like, with no fear of anyone being appealed by them. But I did feel like I was treated differently. I had many doors opened for me, a kid in my class insisted on giving me his sweater to cover my legs when I was cold outside, and a guy I work with and have never spoken to flirted (I think) with me. Now, maybe these were random, unlinked incidents, but I couldn’t help thinking they had something to do with my short skirt.

Maybe I’m not the only one who views my legs differently depending on the spaces they’re inhabiting. My body and it’s meanings does seem to change to me and others depending on the context. I think there are times and spaces where different levels of respect for the body are expected. The gym seem to allow somewhat of a space safe for body positivity, similarly, hanging out with my girlfriends allows for a sense of security in my body. But I think the respect for the female body decreases in other areas. This is really dangerous. There should never be different expectations based on the spaces my body inhabits. My bare legs deserve the same respect whether at the gym, in the classroom, or at the bar. I find it really sad that these changes both affect my feeling of safety, and my confidence in my own body.

Anyway, I think I’m going to wear shorts tomorrow.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Sara Cantor permalink
    May 18, 2009 3:08 AM

    I’m so happy my compliment meant so much to you! You really do have terrifically strong/lovely calves.

    It took me a long time to feel comfortable wearing shorts, too – I used to wear all pants, all the time to cover up the leg braces I had to wear, even when it was 80 degrees in California. Then I started wearing knee-length skirts and shorts, but I would never show my thighs – they didn’t have enough muscle, were too pale. But! Last spring I cut off an old pair of jeans into short-shorts, and they instantly became my favorite article of clothing. I love the way that shorts change proportions, how things that could look frumpy with pants look balanced with shorts. Plus, they make it a lot easier to show off my scars.

  2. Lisa permalink
    May 18, 2009 10:13 AM

    Becky, I’m glad you are loving your legs in all contexts. I’ve never minded wearing knee-length skirts and shorts (I actually like my calves a lot, they’re very muscular), but I’ve never liked wearing anything much above the knee. Partly I suppose it’s just the logistics of short skirts, I’m always afraid that it will come up and people will see my underwear (or the shorts I wear under skirts because my thighs rub). I don’t even own a short skirt. Maybe I should try wearing one.

  3. reviliver permalink
    May 18, 2009 10:48 PM

    I also never wear shorts, except to exercise. I think it’s a similar feeling- in high school I wore very short skirts and dresses because I wanted attention, but I quickly tired of the way my male peers and teachers treated me when I was dressed that way. I made a 180 degree turn. Starting my freshman year of college, I even went so far as to wear jeans all summer when it was 85 degrees.

    I’ve tried to find compromises. I bought a bunch of skirts after junior year for my job and wore them a lot this year. I even broke out a short skirt from high school to dress up as a rock star for a party (even in that relatively safe space I felt indefinably uncomfortable). Maybe I’ll try shorts this summer; it has to be better than sweating it out in jeans or worrying about how other people will see me if I choose to wear a short skirt.

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