woman standing in shorts with children

The photo you see here looks like any other photo you might have on your camera or phone. But to me, as I sit down and put pen to paper, this is momentous.

This photo, taken the day of writing this, is the first time I have been out in public in shorts and bare-legged since I was 17. That is 15 years – I’ll let you do the maths.

We have had a heatwave in the UK. It is hot and muggy. We decided to walk the dog, so I looked in my wardrobe for clothes. I took out the shorts I had cut from trousers and had been wearing around the garden for the last few weeks.

As I put them on, my husband audibly took a surprised breath and shouted, “Yeah buddy!” The look of admiration and pride in his face was visible. He knew what a big deal this was for me. 

I come from a family of tall and solid ancestors.

My father is 6 ft 7in, and our bones are solid and sturdy. My mother is originally Lebanese and is petite and curvy. This means I am not only sturdy but I have hips and a bum that are going nowhere.

I stand at 5ft 10in and hit puberty much earlier than my peers. I was taller than most of the boys at school and felt like I could never wear heels. I have always had a small waist and have tried to emphasize this as it takes the focus off my legs. 

At 17, I walked to PE with a friend, wearing my school attire sports shorts. It was a good 20-minute walk and behind us, I heard sniggering from some boys for the entire walk. Eventually, I got the courage to peak who it was and realised it was my boyfriend and his friends. I had a horrible sinking feeling they were laughing at me but didn’t know why.

I will never forget how I felt that walk.

That evening when I saw him, he told me to, “never wear shorts again.” Weeks later, I  further found out his friends had nicknamed me “The Hulk” as well. I could mention a few other comments that have stayed with me, but I think you get the idea.

I have often wondered as a grown woman why I didn’t just walk away. This boy was the first boy that had ever been interested in me, and I simply wanted to be accepted and know what it was like to be in a relationship. Peer pressure at that age is no joke.

When I met my future husband at University, I saw how a woman should be treated. But here’s the thing: I grew up in a happy home. My father was a wonderful role model for how women should be treated. It was not like I had a history of bad home relationships to offset a cycle of bad boyfriends or had never experienced how a woman should be treated.

That peer pressure just stuck with me.

Those taunts and names changed me.

The comments made by a 17-year-old boy ruled the next decade and a half of my life.

I never wore any short skirts or shorts, opting for maxi skirts and wide-legged flowing trousers. This was particularly difficult in a fashion climate where short skirts and skinny jeans were the only things shops were selling. 

My eldest daughter has asked me a couple of times why I don’t have any shorts, and I told her I just didn’t like them. I want my daughters to be completely comfortable in their own skin, but how could I teach that if I couldn’t do that myself?

One hot day this summer, I got so fed up. I didn’t have any shorts, so I sliced a pair of jeans up to wear in the garden. This paired with a new love for how running makes me feel has slowly brought me round to accepting my legs. To feel the wind on my bare legs was something short of liberating. 

   woman standing by railing  mother kissing daughter

I must admit, I am not sure I will ever be 100% confident in wearing shorts. Old habits die hard. I feel generally more comfortable in long, flowing clothing for the bottom half of my body. And that is OK.

But never again will I allow the past comments of a 17-year-old boy haunt my confidence, whispering in my ear that my body isn’t good enough.

mother and daughter walkingI only have one body. This was the body I was given, and it is the body that will carry me for the rest of my life. Yes, we can be healthy, eat well, and exercise to shape those bodies. And yes, that will absolutely give us further body confidence. But what we must understand is that our bodies are generally happy at a certain weight. We can strain ourselves dieting or exercising, excluding food types for the rest of our lives, going without…but our bodies will always end up going back to its most comfortable weight.

For me, exercising and eating well makes me feel healthy, strong, and more confident. Most importantly, it has an astounding effect on my mental wellbeing. It also allows me to run around with my daughters and have the energy to do that. 

Body shaming has no place in the 21st century, whether it is from men or women.

Raising my daughters to be confident in their own skin has turned out to be a very soul searching experience. As I look at both of them now, I can already see they will have completely different body shapes. One is much more athletic, with crazy long legs and enviable abs (she’s only 6!). My other is already showing to be curvier like me. Neither of those body shapes is better than the other; they are simply different and make them who they are. They are a perfect mixture of my husband and I. We made them, and that is just awesome. 

I want to end with a poem by Nikita Gill. Her poetry speaks to my soul and often makes me get a little teary-eyed. This one, in particular, is what my article is named after and summarises what I have to say perfectly. 

 

Tell Your Daughters, by Nikita Gill

Tell your daughters how you love your body,

Tell them how they must love theirs.

Tell them to be proud of every bit of themselves- 

from their tiger stripes to the soft flesh of their thighs,

whether there is a little of them or a lot,

whether freckles cover their face or not,

whether their curves are plentiful of slim, 

whether their hair is thick, curly, straight, long or short. 

Tell them how they inherited 

their ancestors’ souls in their smiles,

that their eyes carry countries 

that breathed life into history,

that the swing of their hips

does not determine their destiny. 

Tell them never to listen when bodies are critiqued. 

Tell them every woman’s body is beautiful

because every woman’s soul is unique. 

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Grace is a Royal Air Force wife and has been for nearly 8 years. She is mama to two fiery girls and one paw pad, and is undeniably British!’ Creative by nature, creative in life she and her family are a consciously creative household. With her background in the arts, before marriage she worked in the London art scene, both at an international auction house as well as for an international art consultancy. Leaving this behind her passion for creativity, art education and the arts didn’t fade but spilled over into her family life. This led her to become an author of a children’s art educational book, Potty About Pots: arts and crafts for home and school and start up her own website, The Rainbow Tree: making creativity accessible. She also began to write for companies like Super Simple. After a particularly difficult deployment last year she has become a strong advocate for creative mindfulness after watching her eldest struggle with anxiety throughout. Using creativity as a tool to get through, she saw her daughter more able to deal with day to day life. Grace believes that creativity is an innate gift every human has and that using it every day allows us to maintain a healthy well being. This is is especially important for children who benefit developmentally, socially, emotionally and mentally in being creative day to day.