I’ve lived in Portland, Oregon for almost two years now, and I’m proud to call this place home. The city is welcoming, friendly, and accepting of people who don’t exactly fit into the mainstream. When I heard that the latest installment of the World Naked Bike Ride was coming up at the end of June, I had to learn more. It seems the event started out as form of protest against society’s dependence on oil, and while that’s still the main reason it happens each year, thousands of people seem to participate to protest, promote, and celebrate a variety of issues, including body positivity.
A public protest/celebration of body positivity featuring naked people on bikes? This required more investigation!
My goal was to talk to a few people who were riding in the event in order to put a spotlight on body positivity, but I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect. Would I only see one specific body type, well-toned people who might be more comfortable with their bodies than most? I can assure you, that wasn’t the case. The crowd ran the spectrum of genders, ethnicities, ages, and yes, sizes. Older couples? Check. People with disabilities? Check. Fat, skinny, tall, short, hairy, tattooed, round people? Check, check, and check. It was a pretty impressive gathering.
Does the World Naked Bike Ride Have a Message?
Just because everyone was naked didn’t mean that they came empty-handed. Many people had social or political messages painted on their bodies, there were a couple of people wearing Clinton and Trump rubber masks, and even someone totally covered in glitter. I believe I saw Spider-Man at one point, sans pajamas. People were using their creativity to stand out from the crowd while still being part of it. A dance party erupted in the hour before the actual bike ride started, and at one point, it looked like there were more than 100 people participating. Everyone was very respectful and friendly. The naked bike ride didn’t seem to be about titillation as much as it was about community and sharing your message, whatever that might be.
I met a volunteer named Jenna, who was helping participants at the body painting area. This was her first year volunteering, but her fifth year attending. I asked if she thought events like the World Naked Bike Ride helped people feel more comfortable and confident about their bodies. Here’s what she told me:
I do believe the WNBR helps so many people feel more comfortable with their bodies. Larger bodies, thin bodies, old bodies, disabled bodies…all. One look at the riders, and it’s obvious that we are not all ‘hot’ by the oppressive standards we all MUST live up to. It’s not about sex. It’s a protest against foreign oil and bike vulnerability on the streets. But it has become, for a lot of people, a protest against body shame as well.
This was my fifth year, and I have never been harassed about my body size. No one has ever told me or my friends to hide their stretch marks or to hide my side boob fat. In fact, the opposite happens at the WNBR. We all get vulnerable…and then we are all CHEERED for doing so. [We get] cheered for having the bodies that we have. I still very viscerally remember the feeling I had during my first ride…back when my body self acceptance level was much lower. Here I was, naked on a bike, bent over in a ‘unflattering’ position, my belly making so many rolls…riding through the city I love and people would directly yell positive words at me, and offer to give me a high five! For like two hours my belly rolls were celebrated! My face hurt from smiling.
I also met with Greg, a friend who lives here in Portland, and some other big fellas who did the bike ride along with him. He told me that he’d been doing it for years and always had a lot of fun. This year looked to be no exception.
With all the body positivity and good feelings going around, you may be wondering, did I do the World Naked Bike Ride? I don’t have a bike, but I got in on it anyway. I joined the walkers and joggers who were participating and made my way along the 1st mile of the 6 mile route (- my house was along the way). What Jenna said above is the truth – people were cheering and applauding – giving high fives and encouraging each other to keep going, really just having a good time. It was pretty much the opposite of what you might expect if you were exposed like that in public, especially when you’re a person with a larger body that isn’t normally accepted by the mainstream. The truth is, it did feel empowering.
Will I do it again next year? Probably so. I think there’s a lot to be said for being proud of who you are, and sharing body positivity in a very non-traditional way, along with 15,000 of your closest friends. It was an experience I won’t soon forget. You can learn more about the World Naked Bike Ride by clicking here.
Would you participate in the World Naked Bike Ride? DID you participate? Tell us in the comments below!