I have always wondered why women who compete in beach sports wear skimpy outfits. The abrasions from diving into hot sand must get frustrating. It makes more sense to be wearing a unitard that protects exposed skin. Especially when the men wear tee shirts and shorts. Not full protection, but clearly more than the teeny weeny bikinis and tops women wear. They can’t be comfortable. Being on national TV wondering what may be exposed in such a revealing outfit has to impact moves. I never understood it was a requirement of the sport, until now. If less-is-more is so beneficial, why aren’t men also wearing teeny weeny tops and bottoms for every sport from track and field to volleyball? Or better yet, go topless?
I wouldn’t mind that view either. But it’s not my prurient interests that are supposed to be satisfied . Watching over the athlete’s safety and welfare while ensuring outfits do not offer unreasonable benefits that cross a line into cheating, is.
Objectification is never advantageous or beneficial. It draws unnecessary and unwanted attention and all too often, forces the wearer to focus on keeping it in place, not the sport itself. We have all experienced those moments when our clothes were an abject failure. Underwear that just wouldn’t stop riding up so that our attention was on releasing the wedgy. A tie that’s constantly falling into food. Shoes that are too tight, loose or just not practical. A bra or strap that never sits where it’s supposed to. Shorts or skirts so short they test the ability to sit. We have all had or seen those embarrassing moments when we tried to address clothing failures surreptitiously. Ask anyone, it never works.
Now imagine rearranging your wardrobe costs you that all important tenth of a second or pivotal point. Athletic clothing is meant to facilitate the athletes performance not hinder it. I never knew that each sport’s international federation defines athletic attire.
Though not yet an Olympic sport, the Norwegian beach handball team had enough. They showed up for the July 2021 European Championship in thigh length shorts, defying their federation’s requirement to wear, midriff baring tops and bottoms with a close fit and cut on an upward angle toward the top of the leg and a maximum side width of 10 cm. That’s equivalent to 4 inches- smaller than an iPhone! The was fine was 1500 Euros, or approximately $1,700 for presenting in “improper clothing.” Since 2006 they have led the fight to end the objectification of women’s clothing in their sport citing if there were any benefit to the skimpy outfits, men would be forced into them as well. If there was any biomechanical advantage men would be wearing Speedos. Instead, they wear tank tops and shorts.
At the Tokyo Olympic Games, four women on the German gymnastics team wore full body unitards instead of the traditional bikini cut style. The intricate splits, jumps and moves often allow the usual leotard to slip, interfering with focus. It also reinforced the need to reassess the experience of women athletes after the USA gymnastics team doctor, Larry Nassar, was sent to prison for life after sexually abusing hundreds of girls. At the sentencing, many victims described how the sports culture enables objectification. It’s not that the uniforms enabled the behavior of Nassar and others, because clothing of any kind does not do that. But that women were told they must wear a specific uniform, regardless of their comfort with the style, further reduced any autonomy that they had over their experience as athletes. In a culture already rifled with objectification, lacking any say on even what is worn no doubt contributed to the message that they lacked power, even over themselves. The athletics culture is what needs to change, and a portion of that is in women empowering themselves to wear what provides them comfort and confidence to best perform in their sport.
Gymnasts are allowed to wear unitards, of an elegant design and proper neckline. But they rarely opt for this option. Newer additions to the Olympics, like skateboarding, have gender neutral clothing requirements and opted to wear men sized tee shirts and shorts. Simone Biles says the bikini cut leotard suits her smaller frame. U.S. gold medal volleyball champions April Ross and Alex Klineman could wear shorts but prefer the bikini outfits. That’s the way it should be- each athlete able to choose what they like best. But too often what females wear to compete and how they look is judged equal to their skills, accuracy and performance.
Outfits should empower athletes to do their best, not be the overshadowing contributor to success or failure.These issues date back to when women were first allowed to participate in sports. Society feared it would make them masculine and unattractive so they compensated by forcing hyper feminine and revealing dress codes. I remember seeing an incredible ad for Dicks Sporting Goods during the Tokyo games. It showed real life athletes pursuing their goals in all their breathtaking glory. Hair wet and dirty, sweaty bodies and faces grimacing with determination and fortitude. All set to the American Beauty Pagents theme song- “There She Is”. A song that most of us can still remember being played every year when the winner was revealed and adored as the “ideal woman”. Even though we’ve come a long way, there’s still so much further to go.
This was the most gender equal games in history with an almost even split – 49% were female. But the issue of objectification still rages. Uniforms should be used to improve confidence and participation, not as a tool to compensate for archaic and rigid perspectives. Everyone wants to look good when competing. It’s time to stop making sexuality a priority in that decision.
A Closer Look at the Tokyo Summer Olympics Uniform Controversies
Main image courtesy of AP news/ Ashley Landis