Bike Shorts Are The Pandemic Blessing I Didn’t Expect

I was skeptical when bike shorts first got trendy again. But after experimenting with them as a comfy quarantine look, I’m fully obsessed.

Like a lot of people who’ve spent the past few months living a more sedentary lifestyle to protect ourselves and others during this pandemic, I’ve gained some weight. I don’t know how much — I don’t weigh myself, don’t own a scale — but none of the shorts I pulled out of storage from last summer fit me anymore.

Which, yeah, world’s smallest violin. I’m lucky. I’m employed, with a job I can do safely from home. I’ve blessedly recovered from a presumed coronavirus case. And I wasn’t subjected to any police violence while covering the recent wave of protests against police brutality and systemic racism — one of many instances throughout my life in which my whiteness has shielded me from the excessive harm done unto others. Sometimes I wish none of us had to have bodies at all; that we could simply be sentient orbs. Floatin’ around. Just vibing.

But I know that my own flesh prison, no matter how poorly I treat it sometimes, still comes through for me. So I’m trying not to resent it too much for daring to get bigger, softer. For every day during lockdown when I’ve managed to roast vegetables and take a jog around the block, there have been many more when I’ve resorted to takeout for both lunch and dinner, when I’ve napped away afternoons I could have otherwise spent working out. I’m resentful of forces largely beyond my control for derailing the healthy patterns I’d established earlier this year, when I’d found joy and pride in weightlifting and finally (somewhat) had my shit together.

Most of all, I’m angry at myself for even caring about a few extra pounds to begin with. I try to remember that continuing to exist in this world in any state at all is its own small triumph. Weight fluctuations are normal and natural and nothing to be ashamed of. Our weight holds no moral value. I’m pissed off at all the influencers and lifestyle magazines peddling products to help the masses avoid the “quarantine 15.” That’s just the latest pitch from a “wellness” industry that’s less concerned with true physical or emotional wellness than with reifying patriarchal and racist notions of beauty, and profiting off our fear and self-hatred in the process. But being well aware that my occasional despair spirals about a new roll of stomach flab are the results of savvy marketing doesn’t necessarily make that despair disappear.

Sometimes I wish none of us had to have bodies at all; that we could simply be sentient orbs.

As soon as summer heat descended upon New York City, I started poking around online for replacements for my too-small shorts. I didn’t have that many to begin with, since I tend to hate the way shorts look and feel on my body. My thick thighs gobble anything up with a shorter inseam, making me look like I’m wearing a diaper, whereas in longer shorts I feel like a tragic Midwestern mom.

I’m in a group chat at work for “fashion bitches,” which is where I got the idea to give bike shorts a spin. When the Kardashian clan, and Kim in particular, popularized them as a part of an everyday (as in, non-workout) look a couple of years ago, I thought I’d never be able to pull it off. Not that I wanted to. It seemed too absurd — juvenile, even. I was reminded of middle school in the early aughts, when we all wore leggings as pants.

Now that I’m spending so much of my time indoors, however, I figured comfy athleisure was the way to go, no matter how flattering it was (or wasn’t). I ordered a few pairs of stretchy, high-rise bike shorts from Girlfriend Collective on a whim, after seeing so many of the brand’s Instagram ads. (They always get me in the end.) Its activewear, which is made of fabrics synthesized from recycled water bottles and fishing nets, comes in sizes from XXL to 6X — unlike other trendy, Instagram-friendly brands like problematic girlboss fave Outdoor Voices, which taps out at a lousy XL.

Guys, I have to tell you: I’m obsessed.

And apparently I’m not alone. Girlfriend Collective is currently sold out of its bike shorts in nearly every color and size. (Same goes for the skort and bike unitard, both of which I’m coveting.) I must have gotten in just under the wire. I bought a pair in black, as well as a couple of limited edition colors: saguaro green and wildflower purple. I was worried they’d be too bright or neon-y, but they’re gorgeous, deep jewel tones, fun without being clownish. I wore the purple shorts with my favorite wacky crop top from Fashion Brand Company (no longer in stock, but similar to this one), and I felt like a thotty, villainous sea witch cosplaying as a normie at SoulCycle.

For lying around at home in the still heat of summer, you can’t beat bike shorts. I don’t subscribe to the bizarre idea that you have to get fully, professionally dressed every day to feel like a person, even when you aren’t planning to leave your house. Personally, though, I can’t do a full day of sweatpants, and not just because of the schlubby factor; whenever I’m trying to get anything done, I like feeling sort of put together, or else I just get sleepy. For WFH days, I prefer jeans with a little stretch (or “hard pants”), because I like feeling…held? Especially now that I’ve gained some weight around my middle, I’d rather be smooshed into place — lightly and lovingly, not too much constriction — then let everything hang out.

Bike shorts are the perfect middle ground. They’re ridiculously comfortable, definitely more so than jeans, but they still hold me in. My Girlfriends are super high-rise, and thank god, because I’ll never go back to low- or even mid-rise anything as long as I live. They don’t roll up, no matter how furiously my thighs rub together when I’m running or dancing or just shooting the shit. They’re sweat-wicking, and easy to wash and dry.

What’s “flattering” doesn’t have to mean overcomplicated or punishing.

And perhaps most surprising of all: I actually like the way I look in them. Anything tight-fitting has the prospect of seeming sort of unseemly on my curvy, plus-size body, but the material is nice and thick, and their more modest length cuts down on the scandal factor. At first, I was just wearing bike shorts around the house, but now I’ve started taking them for spins around the neighborhood, with a short-sleeved button-down over a tank top, or underneath an oversized sweater. I’d had no intention originally of wearing them for #fashion purposes, but I’ve been emboldened by this increasingly eccentric style moment to take some risks, all while remaining comfy AF. (I’ve also taken to wearing them under dresses and long tops to prevent the dreaded thigh chafe, which sometimes even a hearty glaze of Body Glide can’t prevent.)

Though many of us may have gotten slobbier in quarantine, this probably isn’t the end of fashion as we know it. I do hope, however, that we can carry some of our lockdown-inspired discoveries about what’s comfortable and easy into our uncertain fashion future. What’s “flattering” doesn’t have to mean overcomplicated or punishing, just as what’s “professional” doesn’t have to ascribe to racist dress codes or tired binary gender norms.

Whenever I’ve had bad body feelings this year, I’ve thought back to a New Year’s tweet from the writer Carmen Maria Machado. She wished us a 2020 in which we’re “fatter, hotter, meaner, happier.” God bless. In my bike shorts, bouncing around in my room, or getting coffee, or going to protests (perfect protest attire, IMO), I feel all those things and more — energized and capable, strong and free. May we all. ●

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