Naked Run Helps Students Face Insecurities

CJ Blair, Columnist

If there’s a better way to relieve the stress of finals than streaking through a library, I have yet to find it. Of all the strange traditions at Oberlin, the Naked Run is not only one of the most outrageous but also one of the most polarizing. This isn’t surprising, but those who say it’s too shocking or ridiculous to try may not realize its emotional benefits. The Naked Run is a rare opportunity for Oberlin students to confront insecurities about their body image, and in doing so, reject thoughts that prevent them from feeling confident.

When I talk about the Naked Run, I’m speaking from experience. Every semester, at 10 p.m. on a night during reading period, over 100 Oberlin students crowd into the second floor of Mudd library to take off their clothes and sprint through the building in a fleshy blur. When I got to Oberlin I told myself that I wouldn’t miss any opportunities, and I considered the Naked Run the ultimate test of this promise. But when I got to the library, ready to prove myself, I was terrified. I imagined people would laugh at my scrawny arms, flat butt and scattered chest hair when they saw me, and I debated dropping out until the last minute. Once I started running, though, all that doubt and panic vanished.

As I pumped my legs through the bound periodicals section, I realized I didn’t care what people thought of me. It’s tempting to say that the Naked Run provides a chance to feel great about your body, but this isn’t exactly true. Some of the people who do it have excellent bodies, but the vast majority are like me: average-looking humans with imperfections that are easy to obsess over. The Naked Run doesn’t delude us into thinking our bodies are flawless. Instead, it shows us how many people share the features we get worked up about and reminds us that they’re trivial.

Accepting these flaws unveils all of the other things that we give obsess and fret over, particularly during finals week. When I ran through Mudd library, I wasn’t just accepting the flaws of my body; I was accepting my trouble with romance, organic chemistry and social interaction. Doing the run didn’t make me think I was good at any of these things, but it reminded me how little it mattered that I wasn’t. The Naked Run is a case of such radical exhibition that it becomes an internal experience as well as an external one. When you run naked for an audience, you’re not just taking off your clothes — you’re removing your ability to fixate on anything that induces self-doubt or stress.

For college students, whose minds run rampant with unwanted anxiety, the Naked Run is the best tool I have found for combating these feelings. This is why it needs to be as accessible as possible. The Naked Run is a time to embrace your appearance, but people may be unwilling to join if they’re afraid their ethnicity or gender identity will make them stick out in the crowd. Similarly, the physical demand of running may be stopping people who might otherwise join.

These aren’t easy concerns to address, but if event coordinators and people who have run before reached out to a wide range of students, it would go a long way toward making the run more inclusive. Also, if there were a time where participants stood naked on the first floor, this would allow those who don’t want to or are unable to run to join as well. The run already designates the A-level of Mudd as a safe space for people who don’t want to see it, which is a great step toward accommodating people’s preferences. A bit more effort on the part of Naked Run veterans could go a long way to ensuring that anyone who wants to do the run knows about it and that fewer people will feel discouraged from joining.

If these suggestions sound radical, it’s because the circumstances are too. The Naked Run may not be the only answer, but Oberlin students need an opportunity to realize that there’s nothing about themselves to be scared or ashamed of. The Naked Run is a cordial farewell to the thoughts that keep students from feeling confident and liberated, which can drastically change the way they see themselves. I, for one, have never been the same since my first Naked Run. I hope you’ll join me for my third.