One topic that pops up with some regularity online is the 'shirtless for physical education' issue. The starting point is typically that, at least in the U.K. and the U.S., it has become less common for boys to strip to the waist for P.E., whereas in the past it was common for the entire class to do gym, calisthenics or the like sans shirt. One camp in the debate will argue that requiring everyone to go shirtless can be harsh on plump or shy students, who may develop 'body issues'. An opposed faction responds that there are valid health benefits to going shirtless (not to mention safety concerns when it comes to getting entangled in gym equipment) and that students are more attuned to staying fit if they have to be bare-chested among peers. It is also commonly claimed that, once boys are required to go shirtless a time or two, they find this so much more comfortable than exercising fully-clothed that many end up stripping down of their own volition.
My sympathies, with some qualification, are with the second camp. I think the 'body issue' matter could be overblown. Students are required to sit school tests that could be deflating to the ego of less-prepared or less-keen students, but that is no reason to say that tests should be banned. Why should 'body issues' be more serious? Indeed, they are surely less serious; by banning shirtless P.E. on their account, we are sending precisely the wrong message: That these matters are very important indeed. And why should we do that?
Now, I rather think there is some truth to the proposition that students would make more of an effort to burn carbs and stay fit if they knew they'd be shirtless regularly in front of peers. But I'm not sure this is something to be encouraged: After all, isn't this the flip side of the 'body issues' point? There's nothing wrong about wanting to be presentable - children ought to be turned-out decently for church, or class, for instance - but there is rather a whiff of objectification about saying they should become obsessed with their own bare-chested appearance.
On the other hand, the 'it's more comfortable' argument holds water, if you ask me, and I personally know of people who at the very least lost their uneasiness about being shirtless after having to go bare for shirts-vs-skins basketball or soccer. But for myself, at least, I am partly guided by my on-balance preference for school uniforms: There's something equalising about ruling out attire envy or whose-sneaker-is-the-coolest differentiation. Enforced shirtlessness is simply an extension of this democratisation, a further paring-back of inessential ornamentation.
Is this, ultimately, a major issue that might alter a child's schoolgoing life spectacularly? I wouldn't have thought so. But enforced shirtlessness, even if it's only for a term or a year, would broadens students' experience and allows them more of a choice, hopefully breaking down some unnecessary inhibitions. So why not?
May 2015: First up, though I still try to put up blog content whenever I can, it has been easier to more regularly visit the the Twitterverse. Follow me at @barethomas10 and let's keep the shirtless running flag flying. Of course, the blog still attracts very interesting comments, and good discussion. Keep it up.
Second, in the years since this venture launched, and as shirtless running among women has gone increasingly mainstream, the term "jogbra" has clearly declined in use. I will thus prefer "sportsbra" henceforth - as has already been the case on Twitter, and in recent posts here.
I continue to welcome guest posts (sent to firstname.lastname@example.org) on any related topic, including from those who would discourage stripping to the waist. I am myself of course a fervent convert to the joys of running bare. But let all voices be heard!