There is an abundance of glorious finery in terms of clothing and equipment now available to runners and riders. Running and riding gear is more performance oriented, highly fashionable and better tailored than it has ever been.
But let’s face it: the real reason we run and ride is to look better when we’re naked.
With rare exception, what lies underneath all those hi-tech kits and outfits are human bodies with flaws we would rather erase than show to the world. So we work to improve our bodies through running and riding and doing weight work and stretching. All so that we can walk past a mirror with dignity and perhaps even pride in what we’ve accomplished.
Looking into the mirror is not always a pretty sight even for those who train and race with some regularity. It’s a constant battle to look good (to yourself and others) when you’re naked. Then, there’s nothing to hide. Cellulite. Flabby weights. Big tummy. Skinny calves or flappy arms. It takes a lot of maintenance to get toned up.
What you get is what you see
But here’s some consolation if you don’t exactly look buffed when you’re in the buff. Genetics has a ton to do with the starting point of how you look when you’re naked. Your general bone structure cannot be changed by working out. As a result even your starting point as a weight category and body structure is somewhat fixed. Everyone is familiar no doubt with the terms ectomorph, mesomorph and endomorph. Pretty much those “body brands” are where we all begin in determining the sports we choose and even the type of activities we do within those sports.
Ectomorphs are generally do long distance running and are the “climbers” in cycling. Many Kenyan and other African distance runners are ectomorphs.
Mesomorphs exhibit a middleweight body type. These athletes often can excel in middle distance running events and are typical of “all-around” or General Category cyclists that can win the Tour de France, for example, because their body type allows versatily.
Endomorphs are the sprinters in running and cycling. They can bulk up and go fast, but are also sometimes prone to quicker weight gains.
So the mold or body structure with which you are cast determines in part how the naked part of your athletic makeup is always going to turn out.
There are many examples of people building their bodies up through weight training from ectomorph to near mesomorph size. Those are relatively rare and require enormous determination and even chemical assistance at times to achieve that form of personal evolution.
The normal goal of people running and riding is to build the muscles that contribute to success and enjoyment in the events of their choice. A runner with lean, strong thighs can be proud of their mileage and achievements. When you are in prime condition and walk past a mirror there is no doubt a ping of narcissism (in looking fit) that moves along with your external goals of running faster.
Likewise with cyclists whose upper thighs and quadriceps begin to bulge in mid-summer. Shave those legs and get a tan and you can look absolutely fabulous naked.
Except for those funky bike rider tan lines. That’s pretty comic, really. A naked cyclist looks as if they have been dipped at both ends like a candle into vats of tanning solution. The bare midriff of a cyclist and their upper bodies may also not be that impressive. Cycling really requires very little work in the arm category. World class cyclists tend to look spidery up there. With exception of classics riders such as Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara, whose strength is their success on cobbled roads and steep hills, cyclists can be a skinny-assed bunch.
Of course we’ve all ridden with fat cyclists who defy every law of fitness with their big bellies and seemingly over-thick thighs. Those guys and gals may not look like much when naked, but they can motor on the bike. And in the end, that’s what most of us should care about, the physical and health benefits we get from riding.
The Barry Bonds example
Recent there have been some remarkable and high profile examples of athletes and normal people changing their bodies in dramatic ways by converting to aerobic sports once their professional careers are over. Former All-Star baseball player Barry Bonds was once a muscle-bound, possibly steroid-driven pro athlete who weighed more than 200 lbs. during his playing career. Upon retirement from baseball, Bonds has taken up the sport of cycling and has slimmed down enormously, cycling high in the Rocky Mountains for the fun and joy of riding.
Whether Barry Bonds now looks better naked than he did as a player is something his former teammates or wife may need to answer. We do know one thing, steroids have been known to essentially shrink certain vital aspects of the anatomy. Whether that effect wears off when the drugs are not taken has not been a subject of much public consideration. We do know there are plenty of commercials and online offers for products and processes designed to help in that area. But with no proof that any of them work, it is not an experiment anyone could recommend with any confidence.
The naked challenges for women
Of all the creature’s on God’s earth, women face the most changes and challenges in their bodies over the course of a normal lifetime. From the carefree days of girlhood to the onset of puberty, maturity, pregnancy, menopause and plumbing issues forever after, women are the true saints of dealing with body image.
To make matters worse, the images of naked or partially naked women are everywhere in our culture. Men, too, face those issues on an increasing basis, but the pressures are much more forceful upon women than men.
From the time a woman chooses to take up an aerobic sport there are body issues to address. Long distance running and cycling can thin out a woman’s body weight ratio but it can also reduce breast size in some. Those “challenges” as it were, must be faced by women athletes who basically must choose between looking a certain way and accepting that athletic performance makes that choice for them.
It’s not a hard and fast rule that this is true. For many larger-breasted women, or women with more weight in the hips and buttocks only wish they could reduce in those areas, and running and riding are more difficult for them as a result.
One of the tragic realities of modern society is that the body shape of women who match the broader category of male sexual desires tends to be large-chested, slim-waisted and sculpted thighs. Just as intrusive is the fact that even fully clothed women runners and cyclists endure the ogling glares of so many men, and street harassment is still a problem for many women. It is an ironic consequence of a conflicted society with its alternating attitudes of promiscuous media and repressive politics that women are are regularly being stripped naked by the eyes of men.
It’s a bad habit that nakedness is so prevalent and yet so taboo. It’s not practical for many people, men or women, to actually run naked. But the prurient fact that we rather deny our nakedness under all that garb is what makes us pompously unaware that our foolishness about body images is in full display. Just ask the Emperor whose new clothes covered not a square inch of his body. We’re all naked underneath our clothes. Some of us just deny it more fervently than others.
Realistic body images
Which is why there are concerted efforts to work with people young and old to develop realistic perspectives on body image, health and fitness. The increasing number of girls who run cross country from middle school on is a sign that women are embracing a generally health approach to weight maintenance for health first, but body image as well. This is a lifelong skill that can help women young and old to own their bodies in every respect, keep off unnecessary weight and help lose fat generated following pregnancies and medical interventions.
Enough with the locker room jokes
It is interesting to note that as society has increasingly propagated a visual construct dominated by sexual images in the media and easy accessibility of porn, the locker rooms of America have nearly closed up for business in schools across the country. The ironic consequence is that many kids don’t want to be seen naked, it is reputed, because they might risk ridicule from peers or bullies. Whether this is a conservative issue, brought on by projected fears of a supposed “gay agenda,” or by liberal contentions that body image and bullying are too difficult for teens to handle, is a complex social concern.
But if you take the current trends on physical growth and adult obesity rates, all you would need to do to convince those kids and their parents that it is worth an occasional public shower is to fast forward 10, 20 or 30 years to show them what they will look like if they do not learn to exercise. The Fat Factor in America is frankly running away with its citizens. People (particularly women) are dying faster from heart disease and stroke than any other illness including cancer, diabetes and other diseases. Exercise is also a known medicine for mental health, helping to combat anxiety, depression and even attention deficit disorders. If we were serious about the learning capabilities and overall health of our children, it would perhaps be wise to expand gym class to 1.5 hours and diversify the offerings every day rather than focus on what kids eat or whether they’re afraid to shower in front of each other or not.
When public showering in schools was common practice there seemed to be relatively few problems. For example, mostly what our cross country team did was stand around the hot showers singing songs by the Who and David Bowie. We weren’t really concerned about looking at each other naked.
Of course now that gay rights has opened up the world to gays serving in the military or being un-closeted in high school or the work place, there are some who are protective or fearful of naked young people being together in public showers.
But let’s be honest: A mature society recognizes that showering or being naked around other people does not make someone straight or gay. The beaches of Europe and Brazil are proof enough of that.
Our college cross country team was known for streaking at least two times a season. The pressures of training day after day would build up and suddenly someone would drop off the back of the pack, yank off their shorts and top and come hauling ass past the group, back toward town. As a troupe we’d run naked down Main Street and up through the cafeteria and out the other side. It was good college fun. No harm done.
That same little college developed a tradition of an annual Naked Soccer Game that was finally, permanently banned by administrators when the event drew too much national attention.
But the fact is, being naked while running and riding or playing soccer or beach volleyball can be a whole lot of fun. Within 5 minutes of getting naked, almost no one notices anymore. The world could frankly use a lot less partisanship and a lot more nakedness.
The naked truth of why we run and ride
What matters about the naked truth of why we run or ride is becoming aware of our bodies at a level that is honest and healthy. We can’t all look like Calvin Klein models or those buffed boys outside Abercrombie stores. Those magazine photos featuring women with no physical flaws and impossibly thin waists are just that: Impossible body images.
Better to look in the mirror at the naked person looking back at you and be both motivated and forgiving. Concentrate on ways to make yourself feel better as well as look better. Mix up your favorite activities of running and riding with weights or yoga or other activities that balance your body’s structure and flexibility.
Then, if you ever find yourself walking onto a nude beach on the south of France you can drop that Speedo or bikini and say, “No butts about it, I’m who I am!