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We're changing out of our workout clothes when my friend, who's visiting from San Francisco, says, "I can't believe you still wear shorts." At 34, she thinks we're a little too old, and definitely too dimpled, which is why she's currently putting on a yellow linen sundress that comes down around her knees.
We've known each other since middle school, when we were both skinny cross-country runners. We're still both on the near side of thinnish, but with cellulite. I've seen hers only in snatches, because her modest Ivy-League-business-school-graduate wardrobe keeps the back of her thighs ensconced. But I've had ample opportunity to examine my own cellulite as it's worked its way down over the years, so I know it manifests itself as classic cottage cheese in some places and more statement-making divots in others.
I've chosen to embrace my cellulite, as hard as it might be to embrace something that looks worse when you squeeze it.
I also know I can't get rid of it. I tried once, with a very expensive caffeinated cream that purported to force your fat cells to basically guzzle Red Bull until they perked up, but the only result was a rash. Even at my lowest adult weight, in the months leading up to my wedding, I still had cellulite pretty bad. Which leaves me with two options: Cover it up or embrace it. I've chosen to do the latter, as hard as it might be to embrace something that looks worse when you squeeze it.
Anywhere but the beach, it wouldn't be that hard to hide. In fact, most of my dresses come well below my fingertips. But that's because high hemlines make me feel like the germs of the world are crawling up my crotch every time I sit down. Plus, I like the way maxi dresses and pencil skirts look on me. Long shorts, however, are universally unflattering. The servers at this healthy chain restaurant in my hometown have to wear them, and they make even the legs of lithe 20-year-olds who subsist on kale-aid look awful. And while I dislike the texture of my thighs, the shape isn't so bad, and long shorts are like throwing the relatively well-proportioned baby out with the clumpy bathwater.
But wearing short shorts has also become a bit of a stance. Why should I have to protect people from my body? Will they burst into flames upon seeing persistent subcutaneous fat literally in the flesh?
I do worry that people will think I'm unaware of just how bad the situation has gotten. Sometimes I wish I could walk around with a sticker on my thighs that says, simply, "I know." I too have seen those People of Wal-Mart photos and thought, don't they know those shorts look hideous?
And I worry that people will think I'm trying to make up for low quality with extra quantity, that my swath of exposed skin is like a huge order of nachos: The canned cheese may have a gross consistency, but at least there's a lot of it.
Why should I have to protect people from my body? Will they burst into flames upon seeing persistent subcutaneous fat literally in the flesh?
That's not what I'm trying to do at all. While I wish I didn't have cellulite, I fear that if I don't expose it to the sun and public scrutiny, it'll fester. Not in the actual septic sense, but in the sense that if I only face it alone in the mirror at night, it'll become that much more scary.
If I start hiding my thighs, what else would I want to cover? My practically nonexistent pinky toenails? My ashy elbows? And would my entire wardrobe slant toward cocooning? I sometimes make myself wear tight jeans and silk blouses even though I work out of my house because once I've given up and succumbed to the opium field that is stretch jersey, it's a quick descent into Wunder Unders, clogs, and no-underwire bras.
Sure, I wonder whether I'm becoming what my mother-in-law refers to as "mutton dressed as lamb," the older half of the mom-daughter duo I once saw in a grocery store, with matching hackle in their hair and Hudson jeans. Maybe one day I'll concede defeat and it won't even feel like defeat, it will feel like aging gracefully. I imagine that my skin will start to sag, and my little red spider veins will grow to tarantula size, and I'll decide that sweeping shit under the rug is fine because I'll also dig a bottomless pit underneath it for things like this. Or maybe I'll treat the surface area of my clothing as finite, pushing more of it downward until I'm wearing capris with push-up bras and deep Vs.
But does it matter? There is much ugliness in the world, and if I hid from all of it, I'd have my face buried in my dog's sweet-smelling fur 24-7. Out of sight, out of mind, yes, but do I really want to forget that I'm a human being, warts, cellulite, and all?
So I put on my denim cutoffs despite my friend's incredulity, and she wears her sundress, and I like to think that we each feel equally comfortable with our decisions. She looks pretty and I look—I hope—like someone who doesn't give a fuck, and we both enjoy the sunshine.