Stripping down from our layers and exposing our bodies in their rarest forms is not only refreshing on a hot mid-spring evening in Riverside but liberating: As the 96 runners seemed to feel during the event on Thursday, May 4, shedding cloth was a way to force students to accept their bodies and flaunt it during a once-in-a-school-year opportunity to run around campus, essentially only in underwear. Beyond the run, the event at UCR boldly stands out amongst the rest of those hosted during the school year, for it is a risque declaration of body positivity and self-love in a very laid-back, college-party-like environment.
The need for an undie run stems from the stress and other burdens that accumulate within students, similar to clothing as the weather gets colder, throughout the quarter. It started at UCLA in the fall of 2001, where it has since become a finals week tradition, and has made its way to campuses across the country.
While most campuses tend to focus solely on the run itself, at UCR, the college campus tradition has evolved into something unique. As former CNAS Senator and 2016 Undie Run coordinator Melissa Vargas stated last year, “(We) want to redefine what the undie run is. (We want) people to be comfortable with who they are. We want to promote body empowerment. We just want people to feel OK with who they are and love themselves.”
This year’s coordinator, CHASS Senator Jennifer Nkosi, aimed to take that mission of promoting body positivity and expand it, working toward disposing society’s tendency to objectify women. “We often tend to only sexualize women when it’s totally normal and natural for people to be comfortable in their skin,” stated Nkosi in an interview following the event.
As a film and African-American studies double major, Nkosi finds solace in uplifting the communities with which she identifies. Organizing this year’s undie run proved a perfect avenue for her to build upon this ambition. With this being her first and last year organizing the event, Nkosi was pleased with end result, noting that multiple women took the time to acknowledge how empowered they felt after participating.
Alongside the women, guys paraded their crotches with silly underwear designs such as those with donkeys and Ninja Turtles and ladies customized their bodies with eye-catching lingerie designs, such as those with multiple straps and lots of lace. Everyone could decorate both their own and their friends’ bodies even more at the body paint and powder station, which elicited so much excitement that the station turned into a wild game of who could paint the other person’s body the most.
Though lest not forget the run’s other goal: Collaborating with ASUCR’s R’Closet Project to provide clothes for students lacking the resources to do so themselves. And after the event, Nkosi acknowledged that “boxes filled with clothes that were donated.”
We often tend to only sexualize women when it’s totally normal and natural for people to be comfortable in their skin.
After being provided the time to cherish in the self-love-promoting festivities in anticipation for the main event, the run finally commenced around 7:50 p.m., starting at the Bell Tower then looping around the campus toward Orbach Library and back toward the Bell Tower down Bourns Hall. The faces of students before they departed was an adrenaline-pumping mix of both determination and giddy excitement, and upon returning around 10-15 minutes later, they had evolved into accomplishment and empowerment. One student in pineapple boxers proudly declared, “I did this for myself because I used to be bullied for being a little thicker.” With a reflective pause, he resonated, “Now … I don’t even have words for them.”
The celebration of bodies had only just began for the night, for most students stayed for what looked like an underwear-themed party and what one would never have guessed was a university-sponsored event.
Exhilarating games of water pong took place with even students who hadn’t participated in the run, and many people once again returned to the body painting stations to publicly celebrate their bodies like they rarely got the chance to. Also on the Bell Tower lawn was an inflatable obstacle course set up for students to engage the rest of the energy saved up after the run for highly intense battles. A Twister mat was also placed for the brave students to stretch and show off their private parts like no other game could.
One of the volunteers for the Twister mat, third-year Chinese language and literature major Danielle Pei Tu, had a blast just watching the games, sharing, “It’s really fun to see other people have fun. I feel like they’re connecting by being silly. I even joined in myself and and it was very meaningful putting in all of that physical effort and helping each other out.”
The engagement of the multiple activities held strong for the rest of the event, unlike many which die out after the first few hours, the activities stayed true to games that students enjoy off-campus. Most of all, they were able to do this with no burdens, restrictions or judgment placed on them whatsoever: It was simply a night that banished boundaries that otherwise divide us in celebrating ourselves and one another.