From Our Readers
Updated Jul 21, 2015 @ 12:21 pm

It has been nine years since I wore shorts. Nine years. That’s 108 months. That’s 3,285 days. That’s…too long.

I was only 19 when I banished my legs. Nineteen! I was recently married, and feeling a little self-conscious as the new girl on the military base we had just moved to, so I dressed as conservatively as possible. Time went on, and I got comfortable, busy with school and work, and dealing with my husband’s deployments. I gained some weight, and continued to wear my jeans, slacks and sweats. More time went on, and I became pregnant with, and gave birth to, our daughter. Yoga pants became my best friend. I became pregnant with, and gave birth to, our son, keeping even more baby weight than the last time.

After I had my children, it was even easier to cover up as much skin as I could, because I rarely left the house. I stuck to my beloved yoga pants for easy floor play, and I began accumulating quite the collection. One day last year, my husband was folding laundry while I fed our newborn, and after folding six pairs of identical black yoga pants, he asked, “Geez, Rachel, do you have a pair for every day of the week?” I actually did.

One day last fall, I took my clothes off to take a shower, and, like always, had already banished my husband from the room. I avoided the mirror, like always, and kept my eyes on the shower door. I darted in, cleaned myself quickly, and hopped out as fast as possible, grabbing an oversized shirt and sweatpants to wear while blow drying my hair. As soon as I yanked the sweats on, I felt my body relax, knowing I was covered, hidden and safe.

It hit me then how ashamed of my body I had let myself become: I was rushing through a shower because I was uncomfortable in my own skin, and having my thighs, knees, and ankles exposed. I was forcing myself to wear thick garments during the Texas summers because I was… what? Ashamed what other people might think? Afraid? Embarrassed?

Standing in front of my mirror, I truly looked at my reflection for the first time in close to eight years, and I didn’t recognize myself. The years had passed quickly, and I had avoided my body for so long; my image was a complete stranger. It left me feeling divorced from myself, and confused at how to reconcile my emotions with my physical appearance.

Inside, I was aching. I felt sorry for myself for creating an unbreakable rule in my own mind that prevented me from enjoying life. I decided I would take my body back, and reinvent my image into someone I was proud of, and wanted to show off.

In a move that had nothing to do with my weight, and everything to do with wanting to feel good about my thighs, I joined a gym. Every other day I would bounce around and sweat. After a few weeks, very little about my physical appearance had changed. But, on the inside, everything had changed. I forgot how amazing it felt to wear work-out shorts, and for my muscles to ache slightly.

In a very short time, I went from never wearing shorts to being all about them. Not a day has gone by this summer that I don’t have my legs out, enjoying the sun, the breeze, and the eyes of fellow human beings. I have some in every fabric imaginable: spandex, denim, and linen, all in a dizzying array of colors.

A bathing suit is even a regular part of my summer routine, something I never thought I’d wear again. At 28, I had resigned myself to the fact that my skin would never see the light of day again. I’m so glad I reconsidered. My legs are part of me, and I’m not ashamed of them anymore. My body is beautiful—so is yours—not just because of its appearance, but because of how much it can carry you through. Don’t hide it.

Hello world, these are my legs. And, I’m darn proud of them.

Rachel Engel is a military spouse and mom of two of the best kids on the planet. She met her husband at 16, and still gets those teenage butterflies when she looks at him 12 years later. Her writing has been published on The Huffington Post, Mom365, and Military Spouse Magazine, and she is a weekly blogger for EverydayFamily.

[Image via iStock]