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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Long Legs & Running Shorts.

My thighs have never not touched.

Normally this is something that doesn't really bother me, aside from when trying on bathing suits or when my reality is brought into question by a PostSecret, but it is never more apparent to me than when I dare to wear shorts.

I stopped wearing shorts the summer after my senior year of high school. That was 2002, when low-rise waists were prime and right around the time super-short shorts were making a comeback. I knew from a lifetime of longer-than-life legs and the heartache they brought me that I no longer could moonlight in my own ignorance and faux-self-unawareness.

I said it was because I hated the way my thighs touched, especially in the heat, the way they rubbed together when I walked, sweating and reddening to the point of extreme discomfort. That I hated how nothing fit me right and how that one time in eighth grade I was sent home from school because my shorts were too short and my mom sent me right back because they were NOT too short, they had antiquated ideals of what was considered appropriate and not and if they'd just look at me they'd know it's an optical illusion due to the extreme length of my legs, which made me the center of a great deal of jokes at one of my most vulnerable ages.

But it was shame.

Shame from the regular, unrelenting harassment I received from strangers and friends alike, always male. It was my acute awareness that I could be seen as "sending the wrong message" and that I might be seen as "asking for it" by not covering up the majority of my thighs. Shame from the feeling of my thighs touching in public for others to see, when my shorts inevitably rode up in my crotch and I had to somehow subtly remove them, feeling the eyes on me, the illness in my stomach creeping as the leers followed my trajectory. Shame for daring to wear what I liked, what was comfortable or practical, and being perceived as showing off or begging for attention.

I stopped wearing shorts because I had been systematically taught over the span of my then 18 years that my body was for public consumption and to display it particular ways was an open invitation for my own objectification, and for that I should be ashamed.

In more recent years, I had found myself dabbling in shorts. Before Kiedis, I had this white chino pair, slightly bubbled, that I wore with a black 3/4 sleeve turtleneck and some ridiculous shoe. And in the past year I've worn them for pole classes (necessary if you want to really do much of anything) and even to a casual wedding (a black polka dot pair with a sleeveless swiss dot blouse) but I somehow was able to eschew the guilt and shame I had previously associated with letting so much of my body be seen.

Until I wore running shorts for the first time in public.

In case you don't follow the house blog, my neighborhood is slightly sketchy. But part of what I've fallen in love with running is the fact that I can just throw on some appropriate clothing ad go. No driving, no swipe cards or gym desks -- hell, no really talking to anyone other than notifying Kyle that I'm leaving the house (and, because our neighborhood is sketchy and I have been raised within rape culture and am therefore paranoid, if he can't see my whole personage I give him a description of what I'm wearing and the path I plan on taking in case he needs to notify authorities for whatever reason ... which is oddly part of why I let RunKeeper track my runs, so there would be GPS data out there of my last known whereabouts) and then it's just me and my breath and my playlist and the occasional robot voice updates on the time passed and my slow pace.

But as the weather has gotten warmer and more people have been out, not a run goes by where I don't see a car slow down to pace me, or see men through open windows smiling and waving, hollering, making kissing noises, any iteration of "Hey Baby" you can think of, and this shorts-wearing day was no exception.

I was nervous to leave the house in them, knowing that by exposing just a prominent, yet innocuous, part of my body, that I was going to be street harassed. I knew that the optical illusion created by the length of my limbs and the relative shortness of running shorts would invite unwelcome attention and commentary. And I hated knowing that the world that we exist in right now that the blame for any unwanted articulation in my general direction would lie upon me for wearing the activity-appropriate shorts, not on the men who can't keep their chauvinism to themselves.

It didn't help that it felt like all of East Dayton with a Y chromosome was out on their porches and stoops, just watching people pass. Including my super sketch neighbors.

I ended up cutting my run short because the leers and the jeers were too much for me, keeping me from enjoying the fresh spring air and the barely pink sunset.

But after Monday, after Boston, I'm not going to let other people's creep keep me from pursuing this tiny bit of time I take each day to get back with myself. I have long legs and I will run in shorts when the weather calls for it, and as much as I would love to be able to do that without the oppressive glare of the male gaze and it's sense of entitlement to my body, I will take the opportunity to be proud of what I can make this body do, of the muscle building within my legs in a way I've never seen it before, and not let the shame of my femininity or the fear of the what-ifs keep me from just going.

I've started to look for 5Ks to begin to train for (and am finding out that I'm pretty much missing the season, but I'll find something I'm sure) because even though I never wanted to make running a competitive sport, I've realized over the last couple of days that it never will be if I refuse to see it that way.

I am lucky to be able to run, to have long, strong legs that carry me places at sometimes quite fast speeds, and I will use them to prove to myself and to everyone watching (creeper or not) what all they, and I, am capable of.