A couple of nights ago, I posted a photo to my Instagram of me in a Lululemon sports bra.
It was my fourth time working out topless. Well, not topless — I was wearing a bra. Get your mind out of the gutter.
This was the first time I actually felt good; no, better than good. I felt sexy. In a room full of princesses, I was a goddamn queen.
It wasn't immediate. I didn't just stroll into the gym and throw my hoodie off like a snake shedding its skin.
Before the first time I worked out topless, I spent a good two hours at work just scrolling through a secret Pinterest board filled with the abs of Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner and various other Victoria's Secret models.
For someone so obsessed with telling others they have perfect bodies, I certainly spend a whole lot of time thinking about how imperfect mine is.
Most of the girls at my gym and my yoga studio who choose to work out only in sports bras are already thin. I have never, ever seen a curvy woman rock just a bra to work out. I, for one, always make it a point to wear a giant T-shirt or something that can hide the jiggle in my jog.
The thing is, I also happen to sweat heavily. It's gross, and sometimes I feel like taking my shirt off.
That's why, for an entire week-and-a-half, I decided to just wear a bra.
F*ck body norms! F*ck being body-shamed at the gym! F*ck the gym, let's go eat pizza instead! OK, maybe that last one was a bit of a stretch.
As I got ready for the first day of my no-shirt workout, I became one of those logic problems I always struggled with on the SATs. My normal gym clothes usually consisted of a gray J.Crew T-shirt I no longer wore, a random sports bra and the most opaque leggings I owned.
Now, I wondered: Do I wear high-waisted leggings to hide my pudge? The low-waisted ones make my ass look good, though! Eventually, I chose the former.
Then, I had to pick a sports bra. Do I go for the cute strappy one that makes me look like I'm into working out enough that I've invested in cute gymwear? Or, do I go for my utilitarian Target bra that makes it look like I have a uniboob and no cleavage?
For my first time shirtless, I settled on a simple, blue-and-white striped Lululemon bra, sans any bells and whistles. I didn't want to draw any unnecessary eyes to my chest, stomach or back.
My walk through the gym to the women's locker room, despite the fact that my bra was covered up by a hoodie, felt more like a walk to the butcher shop. I knew, inherently, that no one was looking at me. That didn't stop me from zipping my hoodie up higher as a preventative measure. It's like these gym-goers knew I was about to commit some sort of aesthetic crime.
I couldn't have possibly been more awkward in the locker room. Taking my hoodie off was one thing, but taking my shirt off, even in a room full of women who were all half-naked, felt wrong. I felt like a sinner in church, and I was sweating like one, too.
The moment I began to pull my top over my head, a woman asked if she could walk past me to get to her locker. I am pretty sure I squeaked back at her, adding a “sorry” for potentially harming her eyesight with my body. I suddenly felt the alarming need to stand on top of a bench and proclaim at the top of my lungs that I was only half-naked for a story.
Don't worry, ladies, I would never willingly burn your eyes with my stretch marks! My editor put me up to this, I swear!
Shirt and hoodie locked away behind me, I braced myself for the walk to the machines. I instinctively placed my arms over my stomach, holding my phone over my bellybutton. The treadmills are located conveniently at the back of the room, so at least I knew no one could possibly stand behind me while I ran.
Real talk: You don't realize how hot other people are until you feel like utter sh*t.
Virtually every guy at the gym that night looked like an extra in "Magic Mike." I couldn't even look up at their faces because I was too busy staring at their perfect abs and biceps, hugged by tight white tees. Why did these Adonises feel the need to keep themselves clothed?
I knew no one was looking at me. I knew no one cared. But, in that moment, I was convinced every pair of eyes that roamed the gym belonged to someone who would judge me.
By the time I got to the treadmill, it felt like I had already run several miles. Emotionally exhausted, I stepped on.
At first, I ran on 4.2. No incline. I wanted to run at the minimum speed because, frankly, I didn't want to jiggle any more than I had to. I felt self-conscious and terrified that someone would look at me and tell me I didn't belong.
I was even more terrified when I realized I might have agreed with them.
After 30 minutes, I made a beeline for the locker room to throw my hoodie back on.
My second day was a little easier. I wore a more utilitarian bra, which helped with some of the jiggling. I also went earlier to avoid the after-work crowd.
I may have complained about the fear of being looked at before, but now I felt the opposite. I felt like I was somehow doing myself a disservice by wanting to blend in with the walls. I felt like I was stifling myself, shaming myself for having an "imperfect" body.
The third time I went topless was at a female-dominated yoga class at a studio near my office. I felt more comfortable there because I was surrounded by women of all shapes and sizes.
I felt at ease, finally inducted into the girls-only cult of sports bras, leggings and sweating through downward dogs. I felt like we would braid each others' hair, call each other “sister” and streak war paint on our sweaty faces at the end of our vinyasa.
There was something even more liberating about the fourth time.
For my last gym session, I didn't avoid the after-work frenzy. I wore a bright orange sports bra that did some wondrous things to my boobs. I wore leggings that double as pajamas on lazy days and I didn't put my hair up in a ponytail.
And as I looked back at myself in the mirror before stepping foot on the mats at the gym, I felt like a version of beautiful. I felt strong.
For the first time, I felt like “fat” and “sexy” no longer had to be separated by the word “or.” The two didn't have to be mutually exclusive. Is that such a hard pill to swallow?
For once, I didn't feel like I had to hide. I even uploaded the photo — initially only intended for this article — to my Instagram.
Maybe it was the sweat, but I came home glowing.