Who wears short-shorts? Julia wears short-shorts!
I remember being on the playground in school saying those few lines in a sing-song voice with my friends whenever someone walked past wearing shorts that were nowhere near regulation length. It was a mean, spiteful song, designed to shame that person into feeling horrible about showing off their legs. I had it sung to me on occasion during high-school and each time it had its desired effect: pulling down the offending item lest someone see an extra sliver of thigh.
The way women are told to feel about their bodies is deplorable. I spent the majority of my life hating various parts of my own, from my chunky thighs to my stomach rolls, from my huge calves to my flabby arms. I was never told I was fat, per se, but received insults about every other body part, even down to my ‘tiny ears’ or ‘thick fingers’. In my group of friends in school, I was always one of the largest and could never borrow clothes; there was no way I’d fit into an S size skirt no matter how hard I tried. It made me feel like I wasn’t good enough, because I wasn’t as slender or petite as my friends or the women I saw on TV, in the movies, in magazines, plastered on billboards.
I initially started running to lose weight, and it worked, a bit. Then I stopped, gained more back, and eventually laced up again. That second time I started participating in fun runs and races, and discovered the competitive element to running that my Type-A personality craved – even if I was only competing with myself, surrounded by hundreds of others.
Again, my body changed. I came back to a normal weight-range, but this time kept running. While I didn’t keep shedding kilos (much to my dismay) I started finding muscles in my legs which I didn’t know existed. These muscles helped me run faster, run further, and eventually run a marathon. The night before my first one, Melbourne Marathon in October 2015, I posted an thank you to my legs on Facebook. It was a recognition of how far I’d come in my body-confidence.
But I would still never dream of running in short-shorts. My legs were still too large, I had cellulite and little bumps all over my skin. It was also impractical: my inner thighs would rub together and chafe in the most awful ways. So I stuck to leggings, capris and cycling-esq shorts. The less you could see of my thighs, the better.
Under two years later though I found myself standing at the start of the London Marathon wearing short-shorts which I knew would ride up and become underwear the second I took a step, and a skirt which was so short that it could have been considered a belt. This was the uniform I had to wear to set a Guinness World Record, so damnit I was going to wear it. I had trained in short-shorts for this race, and I had come to love showing off my legs. The world and its disgust be damned.
I can’t pinpoint a single moment where suddenly I thought ‘Oh yes, let’s run in short-shorts from now on! It’ll be great!’. Instead, it was more of a slow build up of confidence aided by a number of factors. Running, of course, was a major one: learning that my legs were not just there for show but could actually be chiselled to carry me 42.2km over and over and over again. Swimming too, because you can’t spend your time hiding your legs with a towel when you’ve got a triathlon to train for. Seeing all body shapes and sizes in the pool change room is a quick way to realise that the people you think are judging you are really only judging themselves. The other factor was chatting with my friend Sarah this past Christmas, and learning that her greatest achievement in 2016 was to run in short-shorts. Here was someone else with the same fears as me, and if she could face them, then so could I.
I still don’t always look great in shorts. There are some terribly unflattering photos from the London Marathon, like the one above, where all I can see is thigh fat and cellulite. A tweet by Peckham Rye parkrun about my Guinness World Record success is marked as having ‘sensitive media’, likely because of too much skin. It brings back all the embarrassment that I have tried to conquer, but I’m trying to push past that. Short-shorts let my legs have space to run, and that feeling of flying is worth more than anything.
Last week, I was lucky enough to attend an evening with some strong female runners including Kelly Roberts, queen of the #SportsBraSquad hashtag which encourages women to own their stomachs and not be afraid of taking off your top on a hot day. For me, it’s short-shorts confidence. It’s wearing itty-bitty 2-inch shorts when you just want your legs to be free. It’s loading up on Vaseline and BodyGlide so that your body doesn’t prevent you from wearing what you want. It’s scary but it’s liberating (and I probably should think of a hashtag!).
Summer’s nearly here, let’s run it in shorts.