What I Learned About Body-Positivity from Running Through NYC In My Underwear
Even in a city where anything goes, stripping down still isn't necessarily easy.
A lot of things can fly under the radar in NYC that would cause a total commotion elsewhere. Morning commute pole-dancing by subway entertainers, naked cowboys serenading tourists...But running around in your underwear? That might just be the craziest NYC-approved thing I've done.
I'm not shy about my body-any chance to not wear pants, show a little midriff, or live in just a bathing suit is A-OK with me. My college roommates would joke that they'd seen my full moon more than they'd even see their own. And, as of late, my life has been so absorbed by fitness that I've stopped thinking about my body in terms of what it looks like and instead for what it can do. So when I got the invite to run the 1.7-mile Gildan Underwear Run-an annual race to celebrate the beginning of the New York City Triathlon weekend-my initial thought was, "This is hilarious. I can run 1.7 miles. Hell, yeah-let's do it!"
But as the race drew closer and the reality of my commitment sank in, I had a lot more questions, concerns, thoughts, and feelings. Here, everything I learned along the way of what I thought would be a good-time, no-worries streaking sesh-and why I think you should strip down too.
1. Your support squad means more than you think.
I originally planned to do the race with two friends. Something about running solo and underwear-clad through Central Park didn't seem as appealing as having a squad to Snapchat, giggle, and #realtalk with through it all. Plus, how cute would it be if we got matching tighty whities to wear with a cheeky saying on the butt? I could just see the future Insta post in my head and was already brainstorming a caption... that is, until my friends bailed. To be fair, they both had legit work-related excuses, but that didn't mean running around alone was going to be any fun. Suddenly, I was terrified of sitting at the starting line alone, naked, and afraid (ok, not really, but kinda). (And I wasn't even stripping all the way down. This writer ran a 5k totally naked!)
2. It's easy to be comfortable when you're, well, comfortable.
I agonized over what to wear. (The idea of running in ANY of my underwear seemed utterly impossible. Thongs? No way. Cheekies? Nope. Boy shorts? Wedgie central.) Eventually, I settled on the most butt-covering bikini briefs I could find and my #LoveMyShape sports bra, which seemed highly appropriate for the occasion. (Here, read all about our epic #LoveMyShape movement.)
I decided to run from my apartment to the starting line in just my sports bra and shorts, because I wasn't sure of the bag check situation. The idea of wearing my running belt to hold my phone, keys, etc. seemed ridiculous considering I wasn't even going to be wearing pants. Do I listen to music? Do these sneakers look dumb? What do I do with my hands? Can I even run? You don't realize how clothes function as a safety blanket are until you can't have them-I was second-guessing everything.
On my way to the starting line, I was paranoid that EVERYONE was looking at me, and I hadn't even shed my shorts yet. Normally, I'm totally comfortable rocking a sports bra during a run or workout-so why was I so nervous and self-conscious? This was going to be one long-ass 1.7-mile race. (Read about how one woman's learned to love wearing just a sports bra in public.)
3. Body confidence isn't a destination-it's a journey. That never ends.
When "perfect" people complain about their insecurities, people get mad. "Imposter!" cry the internet trolls, as if a socially-accepted outward appearance means everything is golden inside too. But no one is truly confident and happy with their body 100 percent of the time. Even if you're feeling pretty damn good right now, you may be put in a situation where that seemingly rock-solid floor beneath you totally disappears. Maybe it'll happen when you're stripping down with a new intimate partner, rocking an outfit that's totally outside your normal style, or undergoing some life experience that's radically changing your body (hi, pregnancy). At some point, life will test your body confidence in a way that feels like it takes you back to square one. For me, that was standing alone in my underwear at the starting line.
4. A body is just a body-and what it looks like doesn't have anything to do with what you're worth.
When the run finally got started, it was a little easier to forget what was going on-although the adrenaline had me cranking past my usual pace. While pounding pavement, I chatted with some girls in matching "Donut Touch"-printed panties and dudes in supertight boxer briefs. I laughed as tourists walking through the park gawked at the crowd of naked humans running by, and I tried to imagine how they'd tell friends back home what New York City is really like.
I realized, after seeing too many stretch-marked, cellulite-speckled, jiggling bodies to count, that-frankly-bodies don't mean a thing. We agonize over the tiniest bits of pinch-able fat on top of our bras and scrutinize the tiny wrinkles next to our eyes. We seek bigger breasts and smaller hips, or bigger hips and smaller breasts. We tell ourselves we aren't as good as the person next to us-just because they might look more like that one girl on Instagram. So we try to change it all. And for what? The inside-the important part-is going to stay exactly the same.
If you step wayyy back, your body is not more than a vessel to hold your consciousness (deep stuff, I know). So anything you do to/for your body should be helping it be its best, healthiest self so that it can carry you around for as many years as possible. What it looks like, honestly should be last on the to-do list.
5. Getting over the scary stuff is worth it.
Yeah, the pre-race jitters sucked, but by the end, I was feeling good-and now I'll wear my "I Ran Through Central Park In My Underwear" finisher T-shirt proudly, and reflect on the unexpected body confidence journey that happened that day. And for that reason, I would encourage everyone else do the same (or something similar that terrifies them, like wearing only a sports bra during your next spin class or even stripping down for naked yoga).
At the very least, runners, you might get a PR out of it.