This past weekend I rode my bike completely nude with tens of thousands of strangers in Portland, Oregon.
For years, I thought I understood the reason for this wild parade of strangers: a protest on fossil fuel, bike rights and safety, and of course the biggest component of all: Getting naked to advocate for body positivity.
It wasn’t until I joined in on this spectacle that I became fully aware of the importance of the ride: In the past it felt enough to attend and show support just by being there. But my hangups over getting stripped down prevented me from joining in because, well, what if people look at me?
Well that’s kind of the point.
I couldn’t help but laugh at the fact that when I arrived in the park, I was searching for a tree or bush to get undressed behind.
Initially, I was too embarrassed to just take it all off in the middle of an open field among so many others who were already undressed. I reminded myself why I was there and forced myself to strip down, trying not to look like I was raised by a conservative East Coast family. My cheeks went red, but my body was relieved. It was after all, dusk and still 80+ degrees out. I stashed my clothes in my bag and started walking with my bike, trying not to stare at anyone, trying to get underneath why I was so uncomfortable. And then it hit me.
As women especially, we’ve been cultivated to look at other women and compare ourselves to them.
We do it all day, every day and mostly without knowing it. We do it to judge and ultimately see how we measure up against others—hereby judging ourselves. We make assumptions based on what we see and discount all the life that has taken place in between: A bad hair day, a parking ticket, a death in the family. And then our minds file all that visual proof so we can use it to apply to ourselves destructively, as needed. When we become mothers, we do the same with our children in tow and sometimes allow ourselves to spoon feed this disgusting habit directly into their mouths because we fear we might have to explain to them what it’s like to be different, as thought it were a bad thing. Especially when all we really want is for them to belong.
But I learned that removing the barrier of clothes, that cheap and easy veil of judgement, that we really do all belong. And that even though it felt vulnerable to remove the fake security that clothing suggested to me at the start, it really was a relief. What started as a feeling of powerlessness, transformed into overwhelming strength and empowerment by the end of the night.
I realized that when nakedness is normalized, beauty comes into crystal clear focus, and judgement falls away.
I felt this empowerment take over especially for women. That for the time being, our bodies had a day off. A time-out from being exploited, shamed and encouraged to play the comparison game. We took a hiatus from being the driver of mass marketing. That for just one night our bodies could have a free moment to not be the reason food and beer looks tastier. That we could forget the torture of why bodies look so damn fresh and clean with soap running down a flat stomach unmarred by the scars of a difficult childbirth.
That I could let myself stare, oogle and giggle at all of our bodies under a better light of hope: We are different. We are shapely. We are defined by our lines, angles, our scars, our lives. What we have underneath is better than what you see on top. And it is all beautiful and exactly as it should be. Exactly you.
Please, let’s agree to stop looking at one another like we’re earmarking it for days we need to feel better or worse about ourselves. Let’s agree to notice when we are and to interrupt our thoughts by recalling the day we rode next to one another, free from judgement. Let’s embrace our thighs, our tummies, our hips and our strength; Let’s group it all together and pass it on like a gift. And let’s share all of it day after day with our kids. I promise to.
Exposed and loving it,