Illustration by Marjainez

Ahhh, summer. The 95-degree days, the sound of lawnmowers in the morning, the screen doors kerboing-whamming shut, the hot tar sticking to your flip-flops, heat shimmering on the pavement, and chlorine-smelling swimsuits slowly dripping on the porch outside…all good things, right? Summer rules.

But along with all the good stuff the season offers, there has always been something about summer that I hated: the clothing. Bikinis. Sundresses. Short-shorts and miniskirts. I used to hate them all.

All winter long, there are articles in Seventeen, Teen Vogue, Cosmo: “Your Best Summer Body Ever!”; “12 Easy Minutes to a Bikini Bod!” In spring, things really amp up. “This Season’s Bare-All Styles”; “Ab-Toning Exercises That Really Work!”; “10 Secret Fat-Burning Tips You’ve Never Heard Of”; “Wave Buh-Bye to Upper Arm Flab!”

And these articles are often accompanied by sunlit pictures of teensy girls in tiny bikinis laughing on the beach. It all made me quietly panic. Because I wasn’t like other girls. My body was…all weird. Or so I thought. My thighs touched when I walked. They more than touched—they rubbed.

I love wearing dresses and skirts all the time. In the winter, spring, and fall, I wear leggings and tights under my high-waisted skirts and short dresses. But dresses in the summer? With no barrier separating my thighs? No. This is slightly TMI, but the skin on my upper inner thighs totally rubs and chafes and hurts after about an hour of walking around. And we’re not talking “this is uncomfortable”-pain—we’re talking “I AM IN SO MUCH PAIN I CANNOT WALK A STEP FURTHER BECAUSE MY INNER THIGHS FEEL LIKE THEY’RE SHREDDING EACH OTHER”-level suffering.

No one else ever talked about their thighs rubbing. No one else seemed to think sundresses were a source of despair and torture. I really wanted to love my body. I wanted to be happy with everything I had and not compare myself with airbrushed magazine ads.

Swimsuits were out. Shorts were out. I was wearing leggings with dresses in 100-degree heat. Everywhere I went, people would gasp at me, “Aren’t you hot?” When I peeled the leggings off at the end of the day, they’d be soaked with sweat. Yeah, I was hot.

Thankfully, everything changed for me a few summers ago. I was over at a friend’s barbeque and a bunch of people were sitting on the grass under a tree. A girl I didn’t know was wearing an awesome short dress, and I sat down next to her and said, “Oh wow, I love your outfit.”

“Ha, it’s actually from Target!” she said, sitting up and crossing her legs. Underneath her dress, she was wearing black bike shorts that peeked way out from under the hem. Hoping to make conversation, I pointed at them and said, “So, did you bike here?” She laughed. “Nope, my thighs just rub, so I wear shorts under my dresses all summer.”

WHOA. The source of my secret shame. Out in the open. She had said it so casually. I stared at her.

“Your thighs rub together? OMIGOD MINE DO, TOO.”

I was very excited. Like making-intense-eye-contact-a-little-too-close excited. The girl looked at me, unsure about my sudden, extreme enthusiasm. “Yeaaaah,” she said, and then added, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, “Almost everyone’s do.” Then she turned around and started talking to someone else, unaware that she had JUST CHANGED MY LIFE.

I couldn’t believe that this girl was talking so effortlessly about something I’d been embarrassed about for SO LONG, and that I’d never thought of wearing bike shorts under my dresses. I mean, really. Come on.

I began talking to my friends about the whole thigh-rubbing thing, and you know what? That girl at the barbeque was right. A lot—not all, but a lot—of ladies have thighs that rub together. Because a lot of females are built that way. Period. (Jessa on HBO’s Girls had this to say about the phenomenon: “[It] feels like an epic fuckfest with a ghost.”)

I began to look at myself in a more forgiving light. Almost everyone is insecure about something, and maybe I was being my own harshest critic. Maybe wearing shorts wasn’t such an outlandish idea. Maybe I could even appear in a swimsuit in public now.

And I could! No one screamed and fainted on the spot when I appeared in shorts in public for the first time since I was 11 years old. No one, um, even noticed. And man, did the breeze on my legs feel good.

It’s kind of depressing that I disliked and hid a totally normal part of my body every summer into my 20s. It’s even more depressing that I’m not alone—millions of people hate normal parts of their bodies, all the time, everywhere. It’ll be 100 degrees out, and there will be girls wandering around in cardigans, because they don’t like their upper arms. It’s OK to not be comfortable with your body, but if you’re actually really hot? Then you’re just uncomfortable, period. It’s not fair. It’s not in keeping with the free-spirited vibe of summer. You have a right to feel good. C’mon! Let’s all show some damn skin, shall we?

One of the best cures I know of for feeling self-conscious about body stuff and perceived “flaws” is to look at pictures of girls who are workin’ with what they’ve got and look fantastic.

I love being around women with inspiring summer style, and I especially love it when someone bigger than a model (e.g. pretty much everyone) goes without a bra or wears a crop top, a tank top, or a bikini in the summertime, and you can tell they feel great. Easy-breezy style always looks better than hot and uncomfortable. Way better.

We could all deal with a little more style freedom. The freedom to say, “Fuckit, I love me, and it’s hot, and here you go! These are my legs in shorts, and you can fuck off if you don’t like it!”

So be kind to yourself about your body. It might be 900 degrees outside—do what feels good for you in the heat, even if it means showing arms or legs that haven’t seen the sun since your mom was choosing your summer outfits. You’ll look as cool as you feel. ♦