It only took 40 years and two husbands to convince me to wear shorts. Up through college, I regarded my legs as “too fat” to display in a short shorts frame. In the last two decades, though, it’s been my varicose veins which have terrorized my legs, restricting them to garments falling below the knee. My mother had given me fair warning about the impending veins; “just you wait until yours pop out” she’d say, sounding eager for me to join her club.
My entire sense of vanity came from mimicking my mother. She didn’t like her vein-lined legs and since mine were identical to hers, I learned to view them as ugly abnormalities. “No one wants to see these legs in shorts,” my mother would say. Although a scorching summer day did occasionally bring out her “just below-the-knee, mom-jean version of short, but those were far more unflattering than some bubbly veins the color of a Tiffany’s box.
I developed my sense of beauty in the same way millions of other American girls did: fashion magazines, movies, and TV, all in the pre-DVR, commercial laden world of the 1980s.
I was happily on board the oversized sweatpants fashion train, but the 1990s brought Britney’s belly shirts, short shorts, and a long list of insecurities. Unfortunately, it took me a while to learn “beauty comes from within” is more than an overused cliche, it’s one we have to mature enough to realize.
My husband, a professional clown, entertains sick children in hospitals weekly and he has seen true ugliness in this world in the form of dying children. He watches adorable kids whither away, go blind, lose appendages or parts of their brain and persevere. They know beauty is living another day. Beauty is courage and resilience and acceptance and continuing to love when you’re entitled to be angry at the world.
My husband adores my legs and barely notices the bubbly veins, aside from when his fingers subconsciously find them mid-stroke. “It’s texture,” he says as if he’s describing almonds in his ice cream. Who knew diverse terrain on the legs was a bonus, but I’ll take it along with his complete disregard if my legs haven’t been shaved. He was completely bewildered why some faint blue veins kept me away from an entire genre of clothing.
Last year, in stage one of my shorts acquisition, I discovered a treasure trove at H&M! For $12, you can take the first step towards re-engineering an entire wardrobe. I’ve learned there are variations on the short: the sweat short, the skort, the dressy short with tassels (my husband made me buy these from the sale rack for $6!).
Nowadays I’ll notice my legs as I pass a reflective surface and look twice, surprised those non-hideous legs are my gams. I’m not used to seeing so much skin! (Hello, thighs!)
I’m ashamed and disappointed in my behavior the last few decades. I was focusing tunnel vision on a minor cosmetic flaw. Recently I saw a viral photo of Aimee Copeland wearing a bikini. Four years ago a flesh-eating bacteria entered her body after she sustained a bad cut falling off a homemade zip-line. Within days of the accident, five of her organs were failing, and to save her life, doctors amputated all four of her limbs. Both arms were amputated below the elbow, her right leg below the knee, and her left leg to her hip.
It took her only four years to take a photo of her new body in a bikini. When I saw the photo, I didn’t focus on what was missing or scars, I could only see the radiance elicited from a strong, brave, beautiful woman who reminds us it is not what we look like, but what we feel, how we love, how we celebrate our days here.
So my legs will continue their late-blooming entree into the short shorts world, with one minor unexpected side effect: the need for a Brazilian wax!