It wasn't easy, but going shirtless made me more confident than ever.

By Emily Abbate
Updated: April 03, 2017

I distinctly remember how freeing it was. Running alongside New York City's East River, the humidity kissing my skin as sweat dripped down my back. Like a scene straight out of Sex and the City, Mr. Big's "To Be With You" blasted through my headphones. My breathing was heavy. I grossly underestimated how warm it was outside, and knew what I should do. But I didn't want to. Five minutes went by, and I couldn't take it anymore. Stripping off my long-sleeved tee, I instantly felt relief. The cool air hit my bare stomach. As my pace quickened, I felt them coming. The tears, uncontrollably am-I-really-doing-this-right-now tears welled up in my eyes.

I never thought I'd do this, I thought. I was overcome with emotion, sprinting as fast as my legs could take me, wearing a sports bra. Only a sports bra. I was outside, in public, in a sports bra and shorts. Did I mention I was wearing just a sports bra? Instead of self-conscious, I felt free. Weightless, even. In that moment, for maybe the first time in my life, I couldn't care less about what anyone around me thought about how I looked. I didn't zero in on my insecurities. It was like I flicked a switch. In that moment, I was grateful.

This is the part where I tell you that I used to weigh 205 pounds. After battling weight issues throughout my teenage years, I stepped on a scale one night during my freshman spring semester to confront what I already knew: I was drastically overweight. Not willing to live like that any longer, I started to make healthy changes. I learned about portion control. I began eating smarter. I tamed my banana chocolate chip ice cream habit and started to take my post-class evening trips to the campus gym more seriously. In the summer of 2008, I started running. To this day, I credit my blossoming relationship with pounding pavement for helping me not only lose 70 pounds, but keep off 70 pounds.

As I got slimmer, my workout wardrobe got cooler, for lack of a better term. I opted for unstinkable Lululemon tights instead of $8.99 black cotton leggings from Target with zero sweat-wicking properties. I invested in what I was putting on my body because I was proud of it. Working out, sometimes twice in one day, became more and more of a staple in my daily routine.

But still, like other women, I was-and still am at times-self-conscious. I've worked hard for this body, but that doesn't mean I look forward to wearing eensy shorts and a sports bra to the gym. I'm a happier, healthier version of myself, but I'm well aware that I'm not Giselle Bündchen or Teyana Taylor (hello, #bodygoals). When I started taking boutique fitness classes here in the city, I was quickly empowered by how strong and confident women of all shapes and sizes were to get down with their tops off. Abs or no abs, I'd walk into spin class and see squads of women rep Team Sports Bra-Only. It got me thinking: How did they get there? I wanted to be there. Part of the Squad. I wanted to feel liberated. Empowered.

Then that summer run happened, and the Band-Aid was off. It took me overheating mid-run to realize that I was the only person standing in my way. I wanted more of that feeling. Soon afterward, I strutted into my favorite spin studio, hopped in the saddle, and stripped off my shirt for the first time in class. I felt... happy. But to be real, this was still relatively in my comfort zone. It wasn't long before the lights dimmed, and then it was just me pedaling away with no judgments being passed, the music blasting overhead. I wasn't trying to flaunt my body. I was just trying to get in a solid sweat.

Enter my personal Everest: the CrossFit gym. For you non-CrossFitters out there, let me sum up what the climate is in one of those magical places. Amidst barbells and buckets of chalk, a lot of women are mega fit (like Camille Leblanc-Bazinet fit). There are abs everywhere. Booty shorts are kind of like a religion, and the best worshippers pair them with a sports bra and a pair of Reebok Nanos. Translation: Clothing isn't exactly in abundance. I knew that if I wanted to really embrace sports-bra-only me, the CrossFit gym was the place to do it.

The workout on deck? A mix of nearly 100 thrusters (that's a front squat combined with an overhead press) and burpees. About halfway through, I was drenched. About halfway through, my shirt was off. For another seven-or-so minutes, I kept chugging along. One by one, I chipped away at the handful of barbell work. When I was done, I lay down next to the barbell, in my sports bra, exhausted. Exhausted, but proud.

I haven't really looked back since then. I can truly say, without pause, that wearing just a sports bra isn't something to be ashamed of or nervous about. There's nothing wrong if you don't feel comfortable with it, but I encourage you to try to get to that point. I'm at a point now where I understand that yes, insecurities happen, but everyone's got them. For me, that just-a-sports-bra feeling is one-of-a-kind. It's about me being confident in my skin and the body I worked hard for. Sculpted six-pack or not, no one can take that away from me. There's just one catch: The cuter the sports bra, the better.



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