I didn’t wear shorts between the ages of sometime around 8 and sometime around 30.
Why not? Because I couldn’t. Every time I wore them as a kid, I got teased. “I’m blinded!” some would say. “There’s a ghost in here!” I heard a lot.
My skin is pale. Really pale. I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone more pale than me, even other red-headed, freckled kids. And I got teased a lot. For being so white.
I got teased a lot for being white.
Pardon my French, but how fucked up is that? I’ve heard of racism, I knew it existed, and I’m not quite sure if this makes me a victim but I do know it’s pretty strange. I got teased for being white by other white people.
In my 20s, despite a slight initial fear of being teased, I started wearing dresses. Without pantyhose. So my legs showed a lot. And I realized something odd about myself – I actually like my legs. This was odd because my legs were always the thing I thought I was supposed to cover up.
But shorts was a whole other thing. They somehow felt different to me. Like people with white legs are not supposed to wear shorts.
The thought of shorts gave me flashbacks to third grade Field Day. The One Day of the year we were all allowed to wear shorts to school. The One Day the dress code did not protect me. My mom excitedly helped me pick out my outfit the night before field day. I was too embarrassed even to tell her of the absolute certainty that I would be teased.
Why not just wear pants? Because then I would be teased for wearing pants on shorts day. I couldn’t win.
The next morning, I woke up to a miracle. I had the chicken pox! I got the chicken pox on Field Day which meant I didn’t have to wear shorts! I was secretly elated, although I pretended to be bummed to miss the most fun day of the year.
(Two weeks later I stood outside my classroom and cried because my mom was going to make me go in there because I was no longer contagious, and I was certain I’d be teased for my chicken pox scabs. Sometimes, you can’t win.)
The thought of shorts gave me flashbacks to high school and college, where my friends would complain that their legs were not shorts-ready because they didn’t have a summer tan yet.
Ladies and gentlemen, these legs of mine do not get tan. Trust me, I have tried. I tried when I was 12 and got sunburned so badly my legs looked almost purple. I do not tan. So if tanned legs are a requirement for shorts, well, then I couldn’t wear shorts.
So I didn’t.
As I got older, the general comments about my skin color stopped bothering me. The “oh my gosh you’re so white” didn’t feel so much like an insult anymore. And truthfully, I am so white.
And I realized something: Some guys even like really white skin. Which is pretty cool, if you ask me.
And then I didn’t even notice my skin color until someone would mention it, and it was usually mentioned adoringly, and it became something that didn’t bother me at all.
But I still didn’t wear shorts.
Until two years ago. I was shopping alone, at Express, and I had an epiphany in the store that if I liked dresses, well, then I was allowed to like shorts as well. So I tried on a pair. I loved them. I tried on another pair. I loved them too. I bought them both and I wear them all the time. One of the pairs kicked the bucket a couple of months ago – I wore them out.
But this post isn’t about my legs, and it isn’t about shorts. It’s about being a kid, and it’s about other kids being cruel, and it’s about feeling so alone because you’re being teased about something you can’t change (and likely, shouldn’t want to! I’d look really weird with a tan, people.)
I thought of my white legs when I read Jim’s blog post about growing up Asian in the U.S., and that’s when it occurred to me that I had been teased by my own race simply for being a slightly different shade. Others had it so much worse than I did.
When I first met Anil he kept asking if I knew he was “brown.” I thought he was joking, so I asked if he knew I was “as white as a ghost.” And then I realized he was asking me for real. Because sometimes people don’t want to be his friend if they find out he is Indian and not just really tan. So he wants to make sure those people know up front so they can choose to walk away.
I cried when I realized his questions to me were not a joke. I cried when I read Jim’s blog. And I realized me being teased for my white legs is really nothing, in the grand scheme of things. Jim emailed this to me last week, as we talked about his blog post: “Actually, what I totally didn’t expect was that so many people identified with it, not because they were Asian, but because they were nerdy, or overweight, or black, and yes, even white. When you’re a kid, it doesn’t matter what you’re being teased for. All you understand is the emotion of feeling left out.”
So, what about you? What were you teased about and is the adult you still waiting to be humiliated for what the child you dreaded?
Jim’s middle name is Ching-Kuo. And Anil is Indian. And I wear shorts.