I have to admit that my initial reaction when a student group tells me about their plan to do an event with "naked" or "underwear" in the title is usually a deep breath and a question such as, "So when you say naked . . . ?" So when Amnesty first told me about their plans to host an annual Naked* Bike Ride, I had to get past my initial questions about legality and alumni concerns before I was able to really "get" what the event was all about.
That said, this is not the first YMCA student program event to encourage taking it off for a good cause. For the last 3 years, Invisible Conflicts has hosted the IC Run. Students are sponsored by family and friends to run laps around the quad in costumes or underwear in freezing temperatures to raise funds for the school fees of children orphaned by the civil war in Uganda.
Yet, I still struggled to connect the ideas of nudity, bike riding and human rights. That is, until Chrissy Ruiz, event organizer, explained it. Chrissy talked about the fact that in the U.S. we all have the freedom to show a little skin, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, class, or any other identity. In many areas around the globe, the same activity can result in arrest, torture, and even death. At the event, participants were encouraged to give the clothes "off their backs" and all the funds and clothing donated went to benefit local shelters.
At the event, itself, most participants chose to cover up some of their body, opting for underwear over nudity, but as Chrissy explained, nudity isn't the point. The event was about awareness and appreciation for the freedom we enjoy and about inciting action to protect those around the globe who are persecuted. Amnesty also talked the importance of healthy body image, of comfort with one's self, and of ending our reliance on oil. (Resource exploitation is often linked to human rights abuses.)
For me, as naked as I wanted to be was a t-shirt and jeans, but that didn't stop me from participating in and appreciating that sometimes less is more, and in the case of the Naked* Bike Ride, less clothes meant a greater awareness of the struggles of women and other underrepresented groups across the globe.
Read the Daily Illini article
See pictures from the event here
*as you want to be