Last week I took my daughter to a lake in the city, and as we parked, a man walked by. He older, perhaps close to 70. He was wearing the shortest shorts I’ve seen since the summer began.
I was startled. The shorts creeped up his backside, and in long, spindly strokes his legs stretched ahead of and behind him, making his way toward the lake.
His faded blue jeans were ragged at the edge where a pant leg could have begun had there been any leg to these pants at all. In the place of the legs were merely wispy, blue-jean tendrils extending along his upper thighs as if they were reaching out to the pants cut long ago.
So. Much. Leg. And white like neon porcelain. The septuagenarian was daisy-duking down 27th with stems you could see in the dark, legs that could light the way through the Upside Down. At the end of those stems he clomped in all black tennis shoes with black socks that held onto his ankles. From the waist up he wore a grey hooded sweatshirt. He didn’t need to show off his torso. He had The Legs.
I stopped my stare just before it turned to gawking and proceeded to lift my baby girl from the backseat and into her stroller.
I am still thinking about this man now. His legs. His calm stroll. His age. His white hair that shone just a hair less brightly than his thighs. The way he gleamed against the backdrop of East Isles, a neighborhood of Minneapolis known for its well kept gardens, clean homes, quiet sidewalks, high taxes.
My first thought when I saw him was a voice I’ve heard before, one I could have repeated had I had a friend in the car – “No one wants to see that.” My knee-jerk reaction was disdain, ridicule maybe.
My second thought – What about my speedo?
When my husband and I were still dating, we went to Hawaii for his 30th birthday. It was a trip he’d been dreaming about for years. Two of the best friends of his life lived in Maui, and he had dreamed of scuba diving since he was a child playing with his mother’s old wetsuit.
The Christmas before, he’d bought me a sewing machine. The first thing I made were a pair of terribly sewn and ill fitting pajama pants for Charlie. The second thing I made was a speedo.
I’d seen the pattern when searching for one for the pajamas. I put that in my basket along with stretchy blue fabric. I cut small pieces, sewed them into layers, and sealed the deal with a fairly even hem. I packed it next to my pair of regular old swimshorts.
At 28, this was the first speedo I’d ever worn. I did not and do not have the kind of body for which people might readily accept someone in a speedo. I have never had more than one ab. No big biceps or tree trunk legs or coconut shoulders or barrel chest. And certainly no tan. I was sporting a Minnesota winter bod on the sunny sands of Maui.
I loved it. That speedo turned my simple walk down the beach into a strut. I could feel the occasional stares, each one provoking me to check myself – “Really? A speedo?” Oh, yes. A speedo.
When I was younger I was so scared of wearing things outside of the norm. I was so afraid that people might find out I was in the closet that I edited out of my wardrobe and my imagination almost anything that would draw a sideways look – speedos, dreadlocks, JNCOs, heels, a huge red trench coat like Carmen Sandiego.
Fast forward to me at 28 in a speedo on a beach in Hawaii, people staring, and me absolutely feeling my oats. I was proud that I no longer cared what people thought about what I was or wasn’t wearing or what box they might put me in because of it. I was out and proud, having the time of my life with my boyfriend and his best friends.
Here’s the thing – the ocean wind all over your skin is some kind of cosmic caress you can only feel with your clothes off. And don’t get me started with swimming in the ocean, snorkeling with waves tickling down your spine and over the backs of your legs. I’m a hippy-dippy earth loving fool, and my body needs to feel the earth. Men, ditch the shorts; your skin needs to feel the feelings.
So, last week, the 70 year old, porcelain-stemmed man walking in East Isles, spring breeze on his thighs, aroma of spring flowers wafting past him down 27th…to him I say – Get it, my man. Thank you for reminding me to just LIVE, for crying out loud.
I hope my daughter sees this man and his gams, lives a life surrounded by role models like her aunt who recently reminded me to wear what makes you feel great, not to wait for the great “Until” (Until I have abs, until I’m out of the closet, until I meet the man of my dreams, until I’m a size perfect).
Love yourself the way you are right now. Put on those daisy dukes right now. Strut your stuff by the water, and let those stares remind you that the opinion that truly matters is yours.