The semester is almost drawing to a close. Finals loom in the distance, and so does the thought that I have a year left before I’m done with college. Rather than worrying about post-graduation plans, I’m freaking out over Berkeley memories I haven’t yet made. The one in my thoughts most recently is the naked run, a co-op-organized event in which students run naked through Main Stacks toward the end of RRR Week.
I’m sad to say I’ve never even witnessed a naked run in person despite being here for almost six semesters. Blame it on the fact that studying in the library during Dead Week makes my anxiety levels shoot up and my otherwise nonexistent claustrophobia emerge. It’s grown in my mind as an event of complete liberation, a short moment during which you feel the air on your skin and shake off the finals stress that gnaws at you while you study.
I also imagine it as a moment of human connection, when we can all come together and take an honest look at one another. Nudity has such strong ties with vulnerability: We’re born nude and after that are usually only nude around people we’re physically intimate or very comfortable with. Public nudity serves the rare (and much-needed) purpose of showing us that we’re really not all that different, provides a time to realize that the “perfect” bodies in TV shows and magazine ads aren’t the norm.
Last semester, someone on Facebook posted a link to a video of the naked run. It was a shaky minute of naked people streaming by, less the glorious revelry that I imagined and more of what it actually was: a quick distraction from writing papers, cramming for finals and generally wanting the semester to be over. A couple of days later, jittered out on coffee and clutching my blue books, I walked past two guys near Wheeler. One asked the other if he’d seen the naked run, and the reply he got was, “Yeah, too much bush.” On a campus where tattoos, piercings and neon-dyed hair is common, I didn’t expect to encounter closed-mindedness about physical appearance.
But it seems like a lot of us still have the media’s idea of beauty in mind. Even if the majority of us don’t look like the supermodels we’re trained to admire, we still feel it’s appropriate to hold others to impossible standards, especially when it comes to public nudity. It’s almost as if we feel like we have a right to only see “beautiful” bodies. This has been on my mind lately, in part because of the show “Girls.” Lena Dunham’s frequent nudity on the show seems to have started as much commotion as the show itself has.
When I first saw her naked, I was confused more than anything. My brain just wasn’t used to seeing women who looked like that on a television show. She wasn’t a toned Victoria’s Secret model look-alike, with a size-two body and perfect boobs. Instead, I saw a woman whose body had quirks and weird proportions. She looked real. What was she doing on TV?
Last week, I read a piece by Margaret Cho about being asked to cover up in a traditional Korean spa, where nudity is encouraged to the point of being mandatory. The reason? Her numerous tattoos were offending other spa visitors. She was surrounded by naked women but ostracized simply because her body was adorned with art while theirs were not.
It saddens me to know that we live in a world in which the human form can be construed as offensive or distasteful. Obviously, there are cultural norms and laws in place regarding nudity, but outside of that, the naked bodies we see should come with little surprise and even less judgment. Instead of fat-shaming or otherwise criticizing, maybe we should admit that it takes a lot of courage to be naked in public. At the very least, just because you may find someone’s body less than aesthetically pleasing doesn’t mean you should vocalize your thoughts.
By the time I graduate, I expect the naked run to be checked off my bucket list. To be honest, it’s still completely romanticized in my head. I imagine running in slow motion to Wagner’s “Flight of the Valkyries” while pages of notes flutter down around me dramatically. This scene is full of its standout characters: the 200-pound guy wearing a Daft Punk helmet, the pink-haired girl with a Spongebob tattoo on her left buttcheck, the skinny guy in Converse high-tops.
It won’t matter if the people around me can grace the covers of GQ and Cosmo. I won’t care how much the boobs bounce or the junk jiggles. What will matter is that a bunch of Berkeley kids got together during the worst time of the semester to scream and run and enjoy the simple art of being butt-naked, no matter what the butt in question looks like.