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More athletes say bye to bikini bottoms

Women fight to emphasize accomplishments over attractiveness

German gymnast Pauline Schaefer-Betz competes at the Tokyo Olympics. Associated Press/Photo by Gregory Bull

More athletes say bye to bikini bottoms

Rebecca Andrews’ teenage daughters play soccer, which, compared to other women’s sports, has relatively modest uniforms. Still, the girls’ shorts are definitely shorter than the boys’.

“By middle school, it’s definitely starting,” she said about the pressure on female athletes to meet standards of physical beauty.

Andrews said one of her daughters preferred wearing the longer men’s soccer shorts, so Andrews let her decide what to wear based on her comfort level. She told other parents how her daughter felt so that if her teammates felt the same way, they’d know they weren’t alone.

“If you speak up and stand up, chances are you’re not going to be the only one,” she said.

Before, during, and after this year’s Summer Olympics, elite athletes increasingly voiced their concerns about the oversexualization of women’s sports, especially mandatory skimpy uniforms. Just before the Olympics, the Norwegian women’s beach handball team defied a uniform requirement of bikini bottoms in the European championships, wearing instead tight-fitting shorts to compete in the third-place game on July 18 in Varna, Bulgaria. The European Handball Federation fined each player 150 euros for not following the requirements.

In Tokyo, members of the German women’s gymnastics team wore ankle-length unitards in competition instead of more commonly worn leotards with bikini bottoms. The Olympics allows such attire, but female athletes rarely choose it. The Germans said they felt more comfortable in the fuller-coverage outfits, and they wanted to push back against the objectification of their bodies.

Haley McNamara, director of the International Centre on Sexual Exploitation, described the harmful effects of objectification: “Research shows that when someone is being sexually objectified, they’re being viewed as if they don’t possess a real individual mind, also as if they’re less deserving of moral treatment.”

Parents I talked to said it’s not just secular culture that overemphasizes the female body. Laurie Chan, a homeschooling mother whose daughters played sports, said members of a strict church her family attended disapproved of her daughter appearing dirty and in her soccer uniform after practice at a gathering. The same attention was not directed at her son, who also played sports. The message: men are valued for their accomplishments, while women are valued for their looks.

After the European Handball Federation charged the Norwegian team, pop singer Pink offered to pay the fine and applauded the team for standing up to sexism. She and other secular supporters of the team, however, put athletes’ self-determination above any standards of dress.

McNamara said sports uniforms should emphasize function, skill, and strength. Andrews agreed.

“For kids across the board, emphasize that what you’re wearing is an accent,” she said, pointing out that wearing attire appropriate to the occasion—such as business clothes in a work setting—typically does not garner excess attention. “What you’re wearing isn’t the focus.”

Anna Sylvestre

Anna is a WORLD contributor and a graduate of World Journalism Institute.


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