My Journey of Embracing the Challenge of Going Shirtless
Welcome to my blog post, where I share my personal journey of breaking free from the comfort of consistently wearing a t-shirt over my sports bra to finally gaining the confidence to wear just a sports bra while working out.
Yes, I am a proud owner of a sports bra company. I am aware that many people reading this with a raised eyebrow right now. Yet it took my until the grand old age of 32 to go t-shirt-free for the first time in the gym. Which was just under 4 years into the journey of MAAREE.
I understand the challenges that many women face when it comes to embracing their bodies in just a bra alone. So I wanted to share with you my liberating journey to going shirtless in the gym.
Growing Up with a Passion for Team Sports
From a young age, I have been deeply interested in sports. However, with hockey being my favourite sport throughout my teens and twenties, it meant that wearing a team shirt was a requirement for most of my sporting life. My kit was always set and predictable.
As my love for sports grew, so did my curiosity about athletic apparel. This passion led me to later establish my own sports bra company, dedicated to creating high-quality, supportive, and stylish sports bras for women of all shapes and sizes. Little did I know that my personal journey would intersect with my professional endeavours, providing me with firsthand experience and a deeper understanding of the challenges women face when it comes to their workout attire.
Now that I was in my thirties and designing my own sports bras, there was one aspect that held me back from truly feeling confident—my hesitation to wear just a sports bra while working out. Instead, I relied on the comfort and security of wearing a t-shirt over my sports bra at all times. It was what I was used to my whole life. I'd only lift my t-shirt in photos and Instagram boomerangs whenever I needed to show a sneak-peek of the sports bra I was wearing. I saw so many women across my social media working out in just a bra and I felt like a bit of a failure in myself and purpose.
Testing a prototype of our Solidarity Sports Bra before it was launched.
The First Time I Tried It, Ever.
Late 2022, I went to the gym with my partner in a hot country. We found ourselves alone in an empty and sweltering gym and, as I searched my rucksack, I realised I had forgotten my t-shirt. Rather than turn back and go home, I knew I had all the gear here I needed to have a good workout. I was just missing a cover-up piece. I thought this was the best time I'd ever get to try out wearing a sports bra alone for the very first time.
Wearing our Forest Green Solidarity Sports Bra
To my surprise, I didn't immediately recoil in horror once I caught a glimpse of myself in the surrounding mirrors. My partner didn't blink an eye either. It did feel very alien, yet liberating at the same time. Not to mention, I felt much cooler in that unconditioned heat.
What Little Difference a T-Shirt Actually Makes
Anyone who is already familiar with MAAREE Sports Bras already know that our designs aren't exactly revealing. They have pretty high coverage and our leggings sit quite high. So I just reminded myself that, logically, the only difference in skin coverage between me working out in a top and leggings to just a bra and leggings is a new two inch window of the top of my stomach. But psychologically, it was a giant comfort blanket I was wrapping around myself.
The Shirtless Experiment Continued
I decided to continue my experiment the next day when we attended a group HIIT session at the same gym. If last week's session was anything to go off of, I knew all the other men and women would be shirtless too. So I wouldn't be sticking out of the crowd. If anything, I'd be fitting in.
Wearing our newest sports bra, the Battle Bra
I went, I took my shirt off, and guess what? It was no big deal. Nobody else knew it was my first time in just a bra in front of others. So nobody gasped, laughed or blinked an eye. Nobody even cared. Even better, I didn't care. If anything, I felt a little angry with myself that it took my this long to even try it.
Am I Meant to Have an Epiphany Now?
I feel like the next bit I should write about is how I now appreciate my body for its capabilities, loving myself... blah, blah, blah. I feel like that's very typical influencer-like statement to give out which doesn't reflect my actual experience. To put that out there would be false. I've seen many of them written across the years and I think to tell people they'll suddenly feel completely different in their same body is unrealistic and, in my case, untrue. Posts like those make me feel like as if I'm missing out on some sort of profound shift that's meant to have happened in the universe in that instant.
Don't get me wrong, some people may have had this great boost in confidence or started seeing their body differently. Great! That's not to say you won't feel like this too, but I didn't. I do get a little frustrated when some influencers say how you'll feel too when everyone's different. Making you feel like you've failed if you don't feel like this too.
What's the actual truth? The reality is that I know I'm not at my physical appearance. However, I don't think that's entirely what was holding me back. It just felt like an alien thing to do. It hasn't been the social norm while I was growing up. The average man probably wouldn't even think twice about taking off his shirt for a game of shirts vs. skins football game, because they've done it and been seen to do it a million times before. I'm thankful to say that it has, however, become more socially acceptable in 2023 for women to be seen more in sports bras alone now. Which is why I think I suddenly felt compelled to try it.
So, What Was Holding Me Back Before?
Due to this lack of influencer-level of self-love that was not thrust upon my during this experience, I was doing a little bit of soul-searching to try and figure out what was holding me back previously. Because, as now seems so obviously apparent, it probably isn't down to one thing that is holding most people back from taking that leap.
I think I felt that if I did take my top off, the gym attendants would come rushing over to me embarrassingly to tell me to cover up maybe, that it wasn't socially acceptable. Or maybe I would get a wolf-whistle from some wandering eyes thinking I was 'trying' to attract them, when all I was trying to do was get a little cooler. Yes, I have insecurities about my body, but I think that was only a small part of the whole thing.
Embracing Newfound Confidence
From that day forward, I started wearing only a sports bra in more and more situations, and eventually back in the UK again where I was seeing familiar faces. I no longer felt like I was doing anything taboo because the sports bra has been making more prominent appearances in women's gym fashion these days. So I feel like the more of us who are doing it, the more other people will feel comfortable doing it.
Wearing our Saffron Yellow Solidarity Sports Bra
There's nothing special about me. I think I am an extremely average woman, in most senses of the word, including how I think of myself. In fact, I remember taking part in an anthropology experiment at university where we has to measure aspects of ourselves against the UK's average population. Things like shoe size, bra size, limb length, weight and more. I came out bang average in ev-e-ry-thing. "See this guys... average!" I would joke as I point at myself up and down.
The fact is, some people might look at my and think "God, she's not in a good enough shape to go shirtless" and others may think "Waw, I can't believe she was ever self-conscious about going shirtless". That will be the case with everyone. Beauty and size are both so subjective that even if you thought of yourself at your peak physical attraction, someone out there won't believe that and another might have thought you'd been there the whole time. Are you going to wait until you are perfect in everyone's eyes? That day won't ever come. The most important thing to remember is, who cares what anyone else thinks?
Confidence of Athletes? You'd Be Surprised
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to collaborate with the amazing super-league netball team for a photoshoot in our bras. As we were about to take our first shots of the day, I was amazed to overhear some of their comments regarding nervousness of being photographed in just a bra and how it felt so alien to them. Some were even worried about how their tummies would look on camera and in movement. In my eyes, they all looked like incredible and strong athletes with nothing to worry about physically whatsoever. I was surprised to hear comments like this even at this level and physical condition.
We continued with their consent and was sharing previews of the shots along the way with them, to ensure they were happy with everything we were capturing.
The photoshoot ended with them continuing into their training session and a match. By the time it ended they told us how they'd forgotten they weren't wearing a shirt and how it had become normal so quickly. You can even tell how comfortable and natural they all were by the photos we captured from the end of that session. I was so pleased to hear and see this. I felt as though I was paying forward that same discovery I had.
Severn Starts Netball Team in action in our MAAREE Sports Bra Collection
How About a Few Months on From This Experiment?
I have found myself progressing with how many people I was wearing only a sports bra in front of so quickly. I recently joined a gym attached to a comprehensive school and find myself often in the presence of 20 teen boys in the gym, probably one of the most challenging environments for this experiment and found myself strutting past them like I really just don't care. Not 'I feel good enough to walk through them' because I don't feel like I feel differently about my body or look at it differently, but it was more like a 'I genuinely just don't care'. I don't know where this feeling has suddenly come from, the only thing I can put it down to is just repeatedly doing it and it becoming the norm. Confidence is like a muscle, you have to keep training it and pushing beyond your comfort zone, as I imagine it can still weaker too.
Wearing our White Empower Sports Bra
Don't get me wrong, I'm not in just a bra every single time I workout now. It's probably a 50/50 split. It depends on what I'm doing, what I feel like wearing and, more importantly, what the temperature is. But it's nice now to think that if I want to do it, I don't feel weird about it or second guess myself. My washing pile certainly appreciates it.
What I came to realise was that it just wasn't as big of a deal that I was building it up to be. I shouldn't put so much of a weight on something that just doesn't matter too much, something that's been holding me back from what I actually want to wear. It wasn't life-changing but it does feel like I've conquered a mini-goal for myself. I worry about what I'm wearing so much less now. I like showing off my bras more in public now and it feels like a little bit of a middle-finger up to female oppression. Which is always a nice feeling.
People like Kelly K Roberts are leading the sports bra movement on social media with the hashtag #SportsBraSquad, which is a movement dedicated to redefining what it means to be strong. So if you fancy giving it a go but want to be part of a bigger community and support group, they are certainly worth checking out.
Remember, from someone who is new to the gym, to the best of athletes - we all have very similar thoughts in our heads when it comes to this topic. So, to all the women who have ever felt you've wanted to try going shirtless in the gym, I urge you to push out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself. You may be pleasantly surprised to feel the same about it.