Saturday, June 24th, was National Sports Bra Squad Day and while I completely support the mission (and ran in a sports bra), I take umbrage with the notion that there needs to be a day devoted to encouraging women to shed their shirts. The initiative, in general, has wholesome goals, combating against a singular stereotypical female runner/athlete physique, promoting body positivity, encouraging body diversity, and showcasing strength above all. Creator Kelly K. Roberts says "the only way we can combat the self loathing and disappointment women feel towards their bodies is to change the way we see strength," and while, yes, that is an inspiring and noble goal, it misses the point of what I truly believe to be the broader reason to encourage women to run shirtless.
The way I see it, the goal of #SportsBraSquad is twofold. First, and very much the mission of #SportsBraSquad, is to promote all bodies being sports bra bodies. When talking about representation, the axiom "you can't be what you can't see," is often thrown around, and showing every type of body being a "sports bra body" shows the world that strength comes in many forms, and one needn't have <10% body fat to be a #badassladygang member (this notion applies to reclaiming the bikini body as well).
The second mission of #SportsBraSquad, and the one I am drawn to, the reason I shed my shirt in the summertime, is that competing in sports, or general recreating, is a time when women should be free from objectification. It does not matter what your body looks like when you are running, that's the wrong perspective. It does not matter if you have a sterotypical "sports bra body," or not, because that misses the point. Running (read: all sports and athletics) should be a time when the aesthetic of the body is irrelevant, it is more important what the body can do, not how it looks doing it (this should always be the case). In high school, a girl from another team told me that their coach made them all wear thong underwear underneath their spandex boy shorts uniform bottoms to avoid dreaded pantylines. Hello, coach, that's not what running is about, the appearance is secondary/tertiary/never important (really, it should never come into the picture of important things), the running is primary! One doesn't run to perform, running as a woman is not an instance where one needs to perform one's gender or look a certain way.
In 1988, Judith Butler wrote an essay entitled "Performative Acts and Gender Constitution," which conceptualized gender as "instituted through the stylization of the body and, hence, must be understood as the mundane way in which bodily gestures, movements, and enactments of various kinds constitute the illusion of an abiding gendered self." Applying Butler's concept of gender to the act of a woman wearing a sports bra without a shirt while running, that act would be seen as a performance of one's gender. One is a woman because one has only a sports bra on while running (and let's be real, without a shirt, sports bras tend to accentuate breasts, or at least draw attention to having them [by needing to cover them up]). However, I would argue that during sports, during any act where one's bodily appearance is secondary (or least-important) to what one's body is actually doing, the gender performance is irrelevant. When I run, I know I perform my womanhood poorly. I hawk loogies at leisure, I wear a very dorky (albeit sun protective) visor, I pick wedgies, I pee in hidden bushes, I grunt, I pant, I essentially don't give a fuck what I look like while running; because no one should. Man, woman, or otherwise, it doesn't matter what you look like while running or competing (hell, most of the time it doesn't matter what you look like). Objectification is not the goal. I run without a shirt because it's too damn hot to run with one (and yes, it really makes a difference). It is the same reason any guy takes his shirt off, ever. The body underneath the shirt, exposed when in only a sports bra is unimportant. It's the way the elites dress; no one at this past weekend's USATF National Championships cheered on the professional runners because it mattered what they looked like in their bikini bottoms and crop/sports bra tops, and, moreover, it's practical.
If you buy into religion, we are all fallen, but we got to get ourselves back to the garden, to a time before we sewed fig leaves together and made ourselves loincloths, to a time when we were naked (or sports bra-clad) and not ashamed. To a time before we cared what we looked like at all times. To a time before social-media induced narcissism and vanity. So it doesn't matter if you have a sports bra body or not, you're performing a sport, not your gender, your body aesthetic is irrelevant.