Recently, my primary school headteacher took the time to scan old photos of school events from the 1970s to the early '00s. Finding myself in these shots was a fun game of Where's Wally, spotting things I don’t remember obsessing about back then but which clearly haunted me throughout puberty. One image stands out the most: our leavers' disco. I was 11, proud and present at the front of the photo. I already had boobs and a gut, and was wearing lilac platform mules and a tiny denim skirt.
I never thought of myself as grown then but my body was already doing its own thing, leaving my mind to catch up. I fondly remember the short skirt from the photo (dark-wash denim, extremely Y2K) and so I threw the photo up on Instagram Stories with the caption: "Screaaaaming!" Clearly, fashion has always been a passion and seeing that I wanted to wear revealing outfits from the very beginning makes me feel sad that I can’t anymore. You see, now, faced with a body that has always fought against me, I have to wear a chub rub short under any garment that reveals more than an inch of leg.
Thanks to these sartorial saviours I'm saved from the burning sensation of chafing between my legs, but the mini skirts that I've loved since day dot don't feel quite right with shorts poking out underneath. Fortunately, though, there are a few brands offering chub rub shorts in a wide range of sizes and colours, which helps make my new styling options more bearable.
The main label offering them up, Snag Tights, has been producing the line for the past two years and when we spoke, CEO Brie Read said she thinks the concept is far from new. "I've been plus-size since my late teens and used to wear things like cycling shorts, which worked but still hurt – you could avoid chub rub but the seams would pinch and often make me bleed." Read says that the Snag Tights shorts aren’t focused just on practicality but on presentability too. "I don't think just because you need to wear something, it should be ugly. We make them fun, pretty and just a little bit nicer to wear."
Although I now see that the chub rub short can be just as much a cute staple as a wardrobe necessity, I didn’t always see it that way. In fact, the first few times I wore these shorts – handmade by cutting the legs off a cheap pair of tights, of course – I felt mortified every time I glimpsed myself in a mirror, got caught in a group photo or looked down to find them peeking out along my thighs.
While I have gained weight since that photo was taken in Year 6, and my style has evolved beyond denim mini skirts and platform mules, my predilection for displaying as much of my body as possible in tiny outfits remains. Being unable to do so due to the size of my thighs and the need for a sweat-resistant undergarment brings all the memories of bad body image from my youth to the front of my mind. It sounds incredible that covering up my larger frame makes me more embarrassed than revealing it but as anyone who has tackled the titans of disordered eating and troubling self-image can tell you, it is often the most mundane things that trigger days under the duvet, crying about the body you’re in.
Speaking to other plus-sizers about the emotional games that a garment can play with you proved that my experience is far from unique. The women I spoke to all agreed that accepting the need for chub rub shorts is far from a straightforward move, and that having to adapt ourselves, our styles and our wardrobes to accommodate our body shape – through need, not want – is as difficult an adjustment as finding out the summer before starting high school that you now have to wear a bra every day.
Just as this feeling rears its head every so often, so too does the ‘80s trend, which favours leggings and pedal pushers donned underneath outfits. Now, instead of being a shameful secret, the chub rub shorts I’ve worn for the past year can be seen in high street retailers, on TikTok street style and celebrity Instagram feeds. Worn on their own or under summer dresses, the mid-thigh Lycra short is currently a styling trick for all sizes, which has benefited me and my fellow chafe-avoiders in two ways: shorts like these are more widely available and come in more patterns, colours and prints than ever before.
Dulcie, 26 and a size 16, confides in me that she sees this as more of a worry than a blessing. "It’s cool that everyone is wearing them and they are more readily available, but it won’t last – once they’re deemed not ‘in’ anymore they’ll be hard to find again." While I’m inclined to agree with the cynicism, seeing the shorts as a style option rather than a medical one has helped me come to terms with wearing them. When Shakti, 24 and somewhere between a size 16 and 18, chimes in with more scepticism – "It’s a bit of an eye-roll moment that things relating to being fat aren’t trendy until skinny people make it so" – I find myself conflicted: because I didn’t need chub rub shorts until I reached a size 20, I didn’t think anyone else would either.
With these women, only two sizes smaller than me, confirming that they too need anti-chafe protection, I wonder if the problem was even with the shorts in the first place. Were they just an easy place to pin my upset about gaining weight? Knowing that the strict body positivity I promote online allows no space to process negativity towards weight gain, it seems as though I channelled my frustration into hating a garment so that I would not hate myself instead. When Read confirmed over FaceTime that even her size 6 customers have cited chafing as their reason for wearing chub rub shorts, I realised that my frustration was multiplied by the lack of discourse around this wardrobe staple. Had it been common knowledge that women of all sizes are wearing cycling shorts to avoid chafing discomfort, perhaps my associations of shame and self-hatred wouldn’t have existed at all.