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Bikini or leggings, who should decide what female athletes wear? VANESSA FRIEDMAN

By: Beatrice Nov. 20,2021

In the end, the mid-sleeved, trouser-length leotard failed to appear in the Olympic gymnastics team finals. The German women who wore them to combat the "sexualization" of gymnastics were eliminated in the qualifying rounds. Instead, the medal-winning teams wore the usual thigh-baring, rhinestone-studded uniforms.

Previously, the Norwegian women's beach handball team was fined for boldly claiming that wearing stretchy shorts was more comfortable (and unruly) than wearing shorter bikini trunks, a shock that went unnoticed because handball is only a Youth Olympic sport and no beach volleyball players filed a similar protest.
In many ways, however, the format of these Olympic events is influenced by both existing factors and those that do not yet exist.
The absence of sprinter Sha Carri Richardson raised questions about marijuana prohibition (which is now legal in many U.S. states); questions about femininity raised by middle-distance runner Caster Semenya's decision not to compete, unwilling to be forced to lower her natural testosterone levels; and, similarly, the controversy over the competition dress code sparked a reexamination of the status quo.


Issues such as sexism, the objectification of women's bodies and who has the right to decide what is "appropriate" to wear at sporting events have come to the forefront.
"This conversation has been going on for a long time," said Angela Schneider, director of the International Centre for Olympic Studies and a former rower in the 1984 Olympics.

It's the latest version of a debate that has unfolded in offices, universities and high schools; in the halls of Congress; on airplanes and on television, as people as individuals increasingly reject the traditional, highly gendered dress codes imposed on them - whether it's the need for a suit and tie, the ban on tight pants or the wearing of high heels requirements.


Sports are perhaps the ultimate front line in this struggle, in part because they are inherently based on gender difference, both in how it manifests itself through dress code and in entrenched differences in hierarchy and economic interests.
"Me Too" (#MeToo) and social justice movements have made equity and inclusion the rallying cry of the moment, and this extends to the dress we use to express ourselves and our understanding of conformity-rather than being a relevant concept, it is a social contract an outdated interpretation of the historical power structure that defines that contract, which is almost always male and almost always white.
While this tension is most evident at the Olympics, it exists at all levels of sport, from Little League baseball to various world championships. While issues surrounding dress code and sport occasionally affect men (aquatics, especially swimming, water polo and diving, are among the few sports that showcase the male body while objectifying it more than women), women bear the burden more heavily.
"We're still talking about what women can and can't wear, and it's somewhat outrageous," says Brandi Chastain, a former member of the Olympic soccer team who, at the 1999 Women's World Cup, became infamous (or infamous, depending on your point of view). "But at least we're talking about it."
In the end, she argues, these conclusions may actually be here to stay.

A brief history of people's fears about women's athletic dress code

Ever since women started participating in competitive sports, there seems to have been an attempt to regulate their dress code: either more feminine or less feminine; either to cover the body because it might be too tempting for men, or to display the body in order to tempt men to pay to watch; to downplay the idea of strength and emphasize the clichéd notion of femininity.
Because sports are based on physicality, it's almost impossible to look at sexuality separately from the athlete - no matter how absurd it is to think that a woman (and a man, too) has her heart set on seducing spectators in the most important competition of her life.
(You only have to listen to post-race interviews with Olympic athletes to understand what they really want: to win the race. Nothing more.)
This was especially true in tennis, where Suzanne Lenglen caused shock when she wore a knee-length skirt instead of a petticoat and corset at the Wimbledon Open in 1919; she was called "indecent. Thirty years later, the same thing happened again when Gertrude Moran of the United States wore a mid-thigh tennis skirt, and again Wimbledon officials declared that she had brought "vulgarity and sin into the game of tennis".
In 1955, 12-year-old Billie Jean King was banned from a tennis club group photo because she wore shorts instead of a skirt. Even in 2018, Serena Williams caused a stir for wearing a tight jumpsuit at the French Open (French Open).
That's the culture of it!
At this point, aliens landing on Earth could be forgiven for being confused by the so-called dresses worn by women in tennis, field hockey, squash and lacrosse matches, because they are more like a degeneration of a dress - like a degenerate tail - than a real piece of clothing.

Similarly, it doesn't make sense that men and women wear very different amounts of clothing in athletics, for example, while in sports like rowing, basketball and softball, men and women wear almost the same amount of clothing.

The answer is usually "it's the culture of sports. In this sense, culture is synonymous with history and heritage; it's about the reasons athletes participate in the sport; it's about the symbols that connect today's outstanding players with their predecessors.

Gymnasts' shiny leotards are a sporting culture; beach volleyball players dressing like bunnies on the beach are a sporting culture; skateboarders' fat T-shirts and baggy pants are a sporting culture.
Cassidy Krug, a member of the 2012 Olympic diving team, said, "Culture may be used as a justification and an excuse, but that doesn't make it right."


Concentrating power in the hands of an iron-fisted governing body and the coaches below is also the culture of the sport. "When someone has your dream in their hands, it's hard to fight back against them," says Megan Neyer, a sports and psychological counselor and former Olympic diver. For years, athletes have been told to be "seen" rather than "heard" by the world, a situation that has fueled recent revelations of sexual assault in many competition events and intensified the debate around dress codes.
However, as social media has allowed athletes to build their own power base, the playing field has changed, allowing them to express their opinions in a way they never have before.
"The athletes' rights movement has made significant progress," said Schneider of the Center for Olympic Studies. "There has been a shift in power."
Who decides
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) allows each delegation's National Olympic Committee to set its own rules on dress code, but Schneider says one caveat: The result "cannot be offensive." But as with office dress codes, dress codes that might be considered offensive or appropriate are generally highly subjective, and in the end, employees' dress codes usually turn out to be "appropriate" only.
"It's a very flexible word when it comes to women's bodies and the variations of different cultures and religions," Schneider said.


The leotards worn by the German team are positioned as a political statement, but they are also an officially sanctioned form of dress. Just before that, no gymnast had chosen to wear them that way for an occasion like the Olympics. In June, USA Gymnastics changed its rules to allow female gymnasts to wear shorts over their leotards - just like male athletes.
Fashion "evolves with social conventions," says Girisha Chandraraj, CEO of GK Elite. The company makes tight-fitting jumpsuits for male and female athletes on 11 national teams, including the United States. Women seem to prefer to look classically glamorous (glitter! Shiny!) ), and bare legs are their choice.
Ultimately, choice is the issue. We've found in study after study that when athletes feel better about what they're wearing, they perform better," says Catherine Sabiston, a professor of sport and exercise psychology at the University of Toronto. " But only athletes can define what clothes make them feel better. Maybe it's shorts. Maybe it's a sweatshirt. Maybe it's tights.

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