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An Open Letter To The Woman Who Ran Past Me In Those Shorts

Illustrated by Qingyun Zhang.
My feet were striking the pavement, lungs heaving as I ran to the sound of Beyoncé singing about 6-inch heels. I was finishing a 7-miler, my first in weeks; I felt winded and tired, but jittery because I drank too much coffee that morning. That’s when you darted past me. I noticed how fast you ran by, your dark ponytail swinging down your back. I noticed your tiny violet shorts and the fact that your thighs were not much bigger than my own. I measured your body against mine and found there were more similarities than differences. I thought, Why don’t I allow myself to wear shorts like that?

I knew the answer. I didn’t feel fit or thin enough. I was always a month’s worth of long runs and veggie-only meals away from buying the things I lusted after. I couldn’t expose my cellulite, dry skin, those ingrown hairs, and I sure as hell couldn’t reveal so much leg, since I was a woman well past the age of 18. Who was I to wear tiny shorts anyway? My body needed too much work.

But instead of hastily applying that thinking to you, seeing you forced me to question my own prejudices — because you looked damn good in those shorts. In my appreciation, I saw an opportunity. I didn’t use the sight of you to drown myself in hatred — I wanted instead to be kinder to myself.

Growing up, my mother praised my body while berating her own. She talked about who gained weight and who lost it among her peer group. I saw bigger girls getting picked on at school. I took on the notion that their size could not be desirable. I learned that a “perfect body” was a body that you had to work for — it required changing, hating, coercing, and restricting the one I already had. I was so focused on the weight I had to achieve that I couldn’t fully enjoy running, or consuming a burger or slice of cake, without worrying about the negative ramifications.

When I got home, I showered, and then decided that I would put on a short, fitted cotton dress that I haven’t allowed myself to wear yet, because I had gained 15 pounds. It fit. Not like I had imagined it fitting when I bought it, but I was comfortable, and I looked good. I dried my hair, applied some makeup and went out into the world feeling beautiful. I leaned into the kind, compassionate internal voice I wanted to listen to, and began the process of tuning out the familiar negativity that always wanted to pull me down.

As I went about my day, I focused on what my body could do. I remembered how far I ran, what the air and sun felt like on my skin. I thought about the twisty yoga poses I could get into, how strong my arms and shoulders were. I remembered that I did these things out of love, not punishment. I asked myself, “What else is possible? How can I love this body more?” Not the body I was constantly striving to get, but my current body. It was all I had. I could choose to love it or resist it.

All of this clarity happened because you passed me that morning. I imagine you were starting your day the way you normally do. Maybe you were trying to feel better in your own skin, as well, or maybe you already know you’re a badass. I just wanted to tell you that by being yourself, you have inspired me to do the same. I will remember you and that morning run as the day my life started to move out of fear and into love.