The Freedom to Go Shirt Free

“I wish I could run in just a sports bra.”

I’ve heard this statement or some variation countless times from women, and if you’ve ever thought this, I have some great news for you – YOU CAN!  Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you to just take your shirt off and go for it. But I am going to tell you why I think you should, and hopefully give you a little bit of confidence to do what you want without caring what anyone else thinks.

I used to be that woman. I didn’t think I “deserved” to run in a sports bra. That was only reserved for lean, thin women, right? When I started running back in 2010, I was very self-conscious; I even did most of my running on an indoor track because I didn’t want anyone to see me.

A few years later, I started becoming more confident in myself. Not only as a runner, but as a person. I stopped wondering if people thought I was fat. My value was becoming less and less based on my body, or my weight, or how toned my arms were.  But I still wouldn’t run in a sports bra.

My stomach rolls are the least of my worries while getting a blister popped at mile 50 of a 100 mile race. PS. Thanks, Julie!

One day, I was running trails and it was toasty. I wanted to take my shirt off but I was hesitant. Even though there couldn’t have been more than a few people in the park, I still wondered what they’d think of me if they saw me running by them. Would they think, “She should NOT be wearing that” or wonder if I was so cocky that I thought I looked good enough to run without a shirt. But I took my shirt off and felt the air on my skin and it was magical. It still took some time, but eventually I took my shirt off while I was running around town. It was a busy intersection and it was a moment of truth for me. What would win? My desire to be more comfortable? Or my anxiety that people would think my body didn’t deserve to run in a sports bra?

I took off my shirt. While this small act may seem pretty uneventful for most, it was a liberating moment for me. It was a transformative moment that represented a shift in how I viewed myself and my body; my body was not for anyone else but me.  I did not care what anyone thought of my stomach, my legs, my arms. I didn’t care if they were tight and toned. All I cared was about my comfort. And holy cow, that felt good. Now, I’ve become so comfy running in a sports bra that I rarely have a shirt on over 70 degrees.

A few years ago, this photo would’ve devastated me. Today, I see a body that allows me to do what I love.

The women who have expressed hesitation to me about wearing a sports bra are women who’ve accomplished remarkable physical feats: 5ks, marathons, triathlons, ultramarathons, and birthing kids for Christ sake.  Women’s bodies are strong and what they look like shouldn’t be a factor in deciding if you get to wear a sports bra or not. Strong bodies come in all shapes and sizes and these bodies deserve to exist without judgment.

So, back to you. You have stretch marks? Loose skin? A squishy belly? Thick thighs? Or maybe you are a pretty lean lady and you still feel self-conscious about rocking a sports bra.  Or maybe you think people will think you’re looking for attention.  No matter the category, I urge you to head out on your next hot run in a sports bra (maybe with a trail sister for support!). Because no one owns your body but you. You do not owe anyone anything. As women, we’ve been told/shown that we should only show skin if we fit a certain body type. Why do we “deserve” to show skin unless we fit into some arbitrary societal norms? I want women to wear what they want – and I want women to see OTHER women wearing what they want to plant a seed. A seed that says, “If she can rock a sports bra, maybe I can too.” I want body types of all sizes and elasticity taking over trails and bike paths so seeing women’s bodies becomes normal, and not to mention less sexualized (that’s a whole ‘nother post!).  As we enter the thick of summer (currently 90+ degrees and 90% humidity where I live), let’s shed our shirts (if we want!), wave a middle finger to societal pressures and norms, and run however the hell we want.

Kelly Teeselink

Kelly Teeselink

Kelly Teeselink lives in Iowa City, Iowa, where unfortunately, there are no mountains but there are more trails (and hills) than you would think. She began running in 2011 as way to lose weight using the Couch to 5k program. After increasing mileage and discovering trail and ultrarunning, she also discovered that running helped shift the way she viewed her body from focusing on what it looked like to what her body could do and accomplish. She is lucky enough to help share that message with young girls as executive director of Girls on the Run of Eastern Iowa. She lives with her boyfriend/crew chief for life and three cats just outside of Iowa City across from a cornfield.

Trail Sisters is committed to creating opportunity and participation for women in trail running. Our content is always free to read. Consider a monthly contribution on Patreon to support Trail Sisters so we can continue to inspire, educate and empower others!


12 thoughts on “The Freedom to Go Shirt Free”

  1. Kelly, congratulations on finding your inner woman. Your epiphany to love yourself no matter what society thinks is right on. As a women’s libber (yes I am that old) I’ve always try to free myself of social norms. It ain’t easy, but it sure is liberating. Rock-on.


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