Hotpants. Booty shorts. Short shorts. No matter what you call them, tiny denim shorts have been around for more than half a century now, gracing the behinds of countless women since.
High waisted or low slung, ripped, frayed, studded, or just your good old Daisy Dukes, shorts are a thing of beauty and fashionable forever, at least as far as I am concerned. There are few things as comfortable on a scorching summer’s day as a pair of bum grazing cutoffs and a crop top. This, in fact, is the first summer in three years that I haven’t spent in that uniform - having a full-time job makes it a bit difficult.
Things weren’t always this way, though. Had you asked me 5 years ago if I would ever be seen baring my legs in public, I would have been horrified. Because, you see, my legs, like the rest of me, are fat - fleshy, doughy and utterly lacking in muscle tone. And god forbid legs like mine ever see the light of the day - no one wants to see that, right? That was the message I had internalised all my life, not just about my legs, but about the rest of me as well.
Never ever show off your body, cover up, “flatter”, hide - that’s what fat women are told on a constant basis in the guise of “fashion advice." A fat woman in booty shorts is seen as a fashion disaster, an example never to follow. These were things I fervently believed. But when in 2007, when I discovered a huge thriving fat fashion community on the internet, I started asking myself if all that “helpful” advice hadn’t been entirely wrong.
Standing out as a fatty wasn’t the worst thing I could do, not by miles, and once I realised that, an entire world opened up for me. It began with a pink and purple chelsea, and eventually went on to bare arms and binning my Spanx. “No one wants to see that” became a phrase I started taking every opportunity to rebel against. It didn’t matter to me if no one wanted to see my fat body - I wasn’t out to gain the approval of strangers. I wanted to dress for myself and only myself.
I started taking pleasure in being publicly fat, unnerving and horrifying people with my unabashed fat body, feeling like a mini revolution in my hometown of Kolkata, India. My hemlines grew shorter and shorter - from just above my knees, to a few inches above, to mid thigh. I started blogging about fashion, taking risks with my dressing that would previously have been unthinkable. I went out in playsuits, mini dresses, and on one memorable occasion, cable tights as pants with a shirt that just covered my bum.
And yet, and yet, the hotpants that had captured my imagination since 2005’s film remake of "The Dukes of Hazzard" (which, I should clarify, I never actually watched; I was just a giant ONTD lurker at the time) continued to elude me.
I gave myself excuses, so many of them. I told myself they were “trashy” and I don’t do trashy, I convinced myself that I would be harassed if I wore them out, and finally, I decided that my upper thighs were too squishy and cellulite-y for me to feel comfortable baring them. That was the year, I started hanging out with Solo.
One of my best friends now, Solo was everything I had ever aspired to be - skinny, pretty, popular. I had hated her from a distance when we were undergrads, but when fate threw us together (I had weed on me one day, and she didn't; we smoked up) I began to see her for the person she was and not the persona she projected.
Solo turned out to be someone who didn’t give a fuck as to what the world thought and only did things when she felt like it. She would go everywhere in her mens’ boxers and superman pajamas, usually stoned and in search of food. The more I hung out with her, the more I realised that getting to a point of utter nonchalance like her was what I should be aiming for.
Her love for shorts was legendary and still is. She was the first woman I had known to have adopted the garment so universally in India. And the best thing was, despite being thin, she never shamed me about my size; on the contrary, she raved about how pretty I was and constantly took photos of me as proof. And finally, in 2010, after I had come to a point where, at a size 12, I felt no different from and no less than my size 6 friend, I took the plunge and bought my first pair of hotpants.
I still remember them - they were a mid blue wash with a rolled hem (I had been set on the rolled hem) and fitted me like a dream. The first day I wore them out in public, I took the car and went to the mall and had the incredibly disturbing experience of being followed by a group of guys shouting and hooting at me. But I didn’t give up.
I was lucky in that I didn’t have to use public transport back then, and so I wore them everywhere - to go to the pool, run errands, hang out with friends - everything I needed to do as an unemployed pothead who was going to go off to grad school few months later, I did in those shorts. Since then, I have bought at least a pair every summer, not to mention other kinds of short shorts - buttcheek-baring jersey cullottes, sequin knickershorts, velvet bloomers.
Today I wore out last summer’s mint pair, which, to my dismay, is way too large on me these days. I didn’t think much of it - I pulled them on and rushed out of the house and, steadily keeping my eyes to the ground, walked to the taxi rank. It was only after I got back to where I’m staying that I had a chance to gauge some public reactions.
It was around 7.30pm and I was wandering around the neighbourhood, trying to find a shop where I could buy some cigarettes and get change for the cab. Men fixed their gazes firmly on my crotch, women walked past muttering under their breath, and I even caught the attention of an 8 year old boy who practically jumped aside to let me pass, as transfixed by my crotch as the grown men next to him.
Having lived in Kolkata all my life, I have become an expert at tuning out the world, because that is the only way you can survive here. Even so, the reactions were hard to miss.
It’s true that I won’t get on public transport wearing hotpants here, or walk around in a deserted place late at night. All through the cab ride back, I was paranoid, especially when the cabbie was driving through a completely deserted stretch of road. I am more than aware that rape is caused by rapists and not by women wearing hotpants; yet I can’t stop feeling paranoid if I go out in them at night, or even in anything else that is short.
The other day, I was wearing a mid-thigh mini and had just gotten out of the cab bang in front of my house. I was opening the gate when two guys walked past. One of them stopped and looked at me like he wanted to rape and disembowel me that very moment - and then suddenly started yelling “fuck you, fuck you” at the top of his voice, inching towards me all the time. It was broad daylight, I was technically inside my house, and yet, I was scared shitless. Thankfully the front door was open and I rushed in and closed it shut behind me.
Fat bodies are political bodies - that isn’t something we can just ignore. Standing out as a fatty, just being publicly visible as a fat person is a political act. When I wear my hotpants out, I get reactions ranging from lechy and creepy, to downright unnerving.
This doesn’t mean that I am going to stop, though. I firmly believe in being a visible fatty, because there need to be people like me in the civic space. I want to disturb the people I see around me everyday, I want to shock, horrify and disgust them. The space they inhabit is also mine and I am here to reclaim it by being as visible as I can.
So for all the women who have ever been told that they can’t wear hotpants at their size - well, just screw that! Anyone can wear anything they like at any point of time, that’s how fashion works. That’s the real fun of it - utterly rejecting and shattering preconceived notions about who should wear what. Fatty in booty shorts? Go right ahead! And shatter some shitty ideas in the process.