A runner's dilemma: Is running in only a sports bra and shorts OK?

ssorich@ledger-enquirer.comAugust 5, 2013 

Upon seeing a shirtless man running, women react in a variety of ways.

Some gasp at his toned physique. Others marvel at his athleticism. Meanwhile, I'm just jealous.

In case you haven't heard, it's not socially acceptable for women to run topless. Few of us want to make the average 5K run a "Girls Gone Wild" audition.

Still, it's hot outside. Many female runners will opt for workout tops that boast labels like "cooling" and "sweat-resistant" -- only to envy their shirtless male counterparts two minutes into the race.

There is, of course, another option: running in public while flaunting only a sports bra on top. Not all women embrace the option. That's understandable -- it requires a certain level of risk.

But is it appropriate?

Runner's World has an online forum dedicated to the question: "Is wearing just a sports bra acceptable?" Many of the online responses say "yes."

One person writes, "On the hottest days, I just wear a sports bra. I don't have a flat stomach and have a bit of jiggle, but I don't care. It's hot out there and it's by far the most comfortable way to get my run in and not be too warm."

A Sports Bra Challenge day in New York City encourages women to exercise in sports bras "as a way of supporting and empowering one another to feel comfortable in our bodies."

Critics likely argue certain modesty standards trump personal comfort. That's probably why many gyms have rules banning both genders from exposing their midriffs. You might say that by running in a sports bra instead of a shirt, women unnecessarily sexualize the activity. There's also a belief that any garment involving the word "bra" should be covered when worn in public.

Consider this excerpt from a 2010 Lovelyish blog post: "Call me old fashioned, but in my eyes, since the word 'bra' is still in the sports bra's name, it is considered a bra when all is said and done. I didn't think that we were allowed to wear bras in public, and now I'm a bit fuzzy on where the line is drawn -- would this be acceptable in school?"

Wearing just a sports bra on top also raises some logistical concerns during competitive races. It might be a little more difficult to decide where you'll pin your race number. Then again, shirtless male runners have handled the same question for quite some time.

Male bare midriffs aren't universally accepted, either. A recent New York Times article focused on shirtless male New Yorkers and asked "if longstanding rules of decorum are gone forever." Maybe by focusing on female runners' midriffs, I'm perpetuating the gender divide.

Either way, consider the temperature before judging runners willing to expose some skin. For most of us, it's about staying cool -- not looking hot.

Sonya Sorich, reporter, can be reached at ssorich@ledger-enquirer.com or 706-571-8516. Visit ledger-enquirer.com/sonya to read her columns.

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