The Power Behind a Hashtag

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We all have those thoughts of ‘Oh, I wish this wasn’t here, or I wish I had more of this,” says Alma Christensen, describing her personal struggle with body image.

“Running with this group has definitely focused my mind more on loving myself the way I am and less on all of my imperfections,” she says. “One thing I mentioned to the leaders is, I think the third to last race I ran with them, I went to Juiceland and I didn’t even think of putting on my shirt — I got out of my truck and I went straight to the line. No one cared, I didn’t even care, I didn’t even notice. The group overall has really impacted the way I love myself more and become more confident with who I am.”

Christensen is a member of the SportsBraSquadATX running group — a local running group that meets once a month each summer to promote body positivity and the idea of not letting anything stop you from what makes you feel good.

Jessie Barnes, Teresa Krammer and Vanessa Mitchell, founders of the organization, said it all started when a bunch of their girlfriends went out for happy hour together. They were all talking about Kelly Roberts, a viral blogger and motivator who originally started the hashtag #SportsBraSquad.

In the summer of 2016, Roberts posted a video on Instagram of her stripping out of her shirt to run in her sports bra. Her motivation for posting the video was to address her insecurities of not having what society viewed as a “running body” and welcomed other women to join in.

“We were all talking about how amazing it must feel to run in our sports bra and how each of us should do it,” Mitchell says. “It was very much a conversation of, ‘I am not going to do it, but oh you should. That would be great for you.’”

That evening, the three women decided to create a public Facebook event to invite women to run together in a sports bra. They expected a group of around 10 women to show up. The first event welcomed 20 to 30 runners. Since their first run in 2016, SportsBraSquadATX has grown to a group of over 120 active members.

“We were surprised since the beginning how many people showed up,” Barnes says. “It was a good start.”

Roberts defined #SportsBraSquad as “a global movement encouraging women to ditch their shirts and reject the idea of ‘what a runner should look like’ in favor of ‘this is what strength looks like.’” For the SportsBraSquad community in Austin, however, the hashtag has grown to mean so much more.

Christensen described her personal struggle with body image and how the group has encouraged her to focus her mind on loving herself and not pointing out imperfections.

“A lot of times as a society, we focus on imperfections and things we cannot control,” Christensen says. “What attracted me to this group is not so much as running in a sports bra, but more of accepting yourself and loving yourself. Every time I go, it is like a little reminder to be who you are and not be ashamed of it. I think it also helps that everyone is so nice and positive and we are in it together. I feel like sometimes we just need those little reminders. Everyone is on their own journey and carrying their own load.”

This sense of community is the most important aspect of SportsBraSquadATX, according to Barnes, Krammer and Mitchell. As the group becomes larger, they said they are less concerned about any of the logistics of what the future of the group will look like. Instead, what is most important to them is maintaining the integrity of the community and the safe space they have built within the group of people for others to come and experience.

“We all agree we want the authenticity to remain and the atmosphere to feel safe,” Barnes says. “Yes, we are a running group, but we are really just trying to build a community. That is the through line of everything we are trying to do. The main goal we are trying to accomplish is not for you to run in a sports bra. If you want to try something new, we want you to feel empowered to do it. ”

While the group only runs in the summer months, they are still active during their off season. SportsBraSquadATX maintains many efforts to continue building the encouraging atmosphere of the group. This past year, the team joined the coalition of Austin Runners Club (ARC), the local nonprofit which serves the runners of Austin. As part of the ARC, SportsBraSquadATX started creating teams at many races held in Austin. The group now hosts teams at the Zilker Relays, 3M Half, the Austin Marathon, Run for Water and Statesman Cap10K.

Christensen recognized there are many different running groups in Austin. She said while it is great to get to run with others, the message that this group sends out to their members is what sets it apart.

“There are a lot of women in the group and there are times when I get there and I will have my shirt on and I will keep my shirt on,” Christensen said. “There are a lot of women who run with their shirt on or want to run in their sports bra but just are not there yet, but I love the positive atmosphere of it and can definitely say that it is more about the reminder of loving yourself no matter what.”

Although the movement was primarily started to encourage women, SportsBraSquadATX is comprised of many types of people with different identities, ages and backgrounds.

“For better or worse, this message is very unifying to people from all sorts of walks of life, different running abilities, different body types, different ages,” Barnes says. “Just as we were surprised by the breadth of women united by this message, we are doing men a disservice by assuming they are just fine. They have a lot of similar feelings, so it is neat to see the community grow. Literally everyone is welcome, whatever you identify with.”

Krammer said a lot of men she talked to have said they come to SportsBraSquadATX and run with someone — either their wife, friend or running partner. She said the men like the community environment, but end up leaving the run with something much more important: body positivity/whatever is accurate.

“The message is serving people we didn’t even intend to reach,” Krammer said. “A lot of the stories I have heard from men end in their realization this message also applies to them. Men are also dealing with these same issues.”

Krammer said SportsBraSquadATX is not just influencing adults, but the younger generation as well.

“The very first run, someone brought their maybe 9-year-old daughter, which triggered a discussion of when she is going to get to wear a sports bra,” Krammer says. “Her dad also expressed how important it is for his daughter to see all different sorts of body types and abilities.”

Mitchell said at their last event a couple of moms brought their boys and expressed how important it was for them to see all different women running through space with different-looking bodies.

“There is one little kid — his name is Duke — he loves it,” Mitchell says. “He is about six or seven and he runs the whole way. He constantly asks his mom when SportsBraSquad is. Another one of our friends told us her son said he wanted to run with his tummy showing like mommy.”

Children’s opinions about their bodies can form at a very young age. According to nationaleatingdisorders.org, body image concerns can begin as early as age six. Krammer said introducing children to a body positive environment can be very influential as they grow into adolescence.

“These kids are young, so they just don’t really understand the gravity of what is going on,” Krammer says. “I feel like bringing the kids can be a very intentional move, so it is one of those moments that reminds us this is bigger than us.”

SportsBraSquadATX has grown to be a powerful movement. The organization was also featured in Runner’s World magazine earlier this year.

People join the Facebook group simply because of the message and goal behind the hashtag. Mitchell said they have been asked multiple times if there are chapters in other cities.

They always respond: Start one.

“We want others to take the lead in their own hands,” Barnes says. “It would be really cool to see other chapters pop up around the country.”

Robert’s viral hashtag from 2016 has influenced women all over the country to embrace who they are. On June 24, 2017, women from over 17 cities hosted meet-ups to participate in embracing what strength should look like.

Christensen said this community and the hashtag #SportsBraSquad represents a message which unifies people from across the nation.

“Different women from different backgrounds coming together and loving themselves and each other — that is what it is really about.”

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