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Halftime thoughts: Questioning the specificity of athletic wear on women

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One can know what sport an athlete is playing just by looking at their uniforms. These uniforms are supposed to be designed according to how these individuals move—whether that be running, swimming, or jumping. This is why at times, sports have specific uniforms that cater to the sport’s environment, movement, and other functions.

However, there is a concerning disparity in which women would typically wear more revealing uniforms than men. On numerous occasions, multiple sports organizations stood by puzzling clothing standards for women. This leads one to question if there is any justifiable reason behind this difference.

Is this perhaps a ruse to objectify women?

Same play, different dress up

Despite playing the same sport, there is a different standard of clothing for men and women. In sports such as track and field, tennis, and beach volleyball, female athletes are typically expected to wear shorts, skirts, and bikini bottoms. On the other hand, male athletes wear uniforms that have little variation from what women would wear such as tank tops, shirts, and baggy shorts for almost all sports.

Take beach volleyball for example. Playing on the beach requires little clothing to steer clear of sands getting in the way. Players are expected to wear some sort of clothing as if they are going to the beach. For women, a sports bra and bikini bottom, and for males, a tank top paired with baggy shorts. In comparing the two, women nearly get stripped off compared to men who remain to have indistinguishable gear from what they would generally wear for indoor volleyball matches. To pose a question for our local beach volleyball tournaments, is it still acceptable for males to be topless? Or would that be too distracting?

If comfort is a factor in the specifications for general female sportswear, shouldn’t choice be in consideration as well? The Norwegian Beach Handball Team faced a controversial issue last 2021 where the team was fined EUR1,500 for wearing shorts as an alternative to bikini bottoms in the 2021 European Beach Handball Championship. Although bikini bottoms serve as the ideal uniform for women in this sport, it is quite unfair that the team was severely punished despite still wearing identical uniforms.

In any sport, it is normal for athletes to be given a recommended attire set, which they would be advised to follow. However, when it comes down to comfort or preference, these athletes should also have the right to wear what they deem appropriate or what would make them feel at ease—as long as it does not provide any significant unfair advantage for them and the team. After all, what they wear is for their own benefit and comfort and not for anything—or anyone else.

Back in 2007, American pole vaulter Allison Stokke received negative attention because of a photograph that supposedly “aimed to appreciate her beauty and body shape”. At the young age of 17, Stokke was just competing at a high school track and field meet. People deemed her a sex symbol rather than an athlete with countless achievements at a young age. This issue is an example of the sad reality that female athletes could go through just because of what they wear. Even young athletes are not safe from unsolicited reactions.

Even way back, in 2004, former FIFA president Sepp Blatter made comments regarding what women should wear in football matches. He explained that the men’s competition is completely different, specifically stating that “more feminine uniforms” can attract attention to the women’s division. He furthered by suggesting “tighter shorts” for their uniforms to promote the competition by creating “a more female aesthetic.”

Unfortunately, this kind of mentality still exists today. Last February in the 2022 Beijing Olympics, five female skiers were disqualified as a consequence of wearing the wrong attire which was apparently too baggy.

Turning a blind eye

Hearing about these issues would certainly make one question the purpose behind the variation of sportswear for women—how sports clothing gets specific on women’s bodies even when the required movement and environment for most of these sports are relatively the same.

Some people may already have gotten so used to seeing the different uniform trends among women that they do not bother to question what is expected. Nevertheless, we must not ignore the idea of having distinct sportswear between the two sexes, depending on the preference of athletes. With having the freedom of wearing what they want, different athletes, regardless of gender, can continue to feel confident and safe in their respective sports.

Women should be given the liberty to wear what they think is most comfortable and functional in their sport, and that may be in the form of bikini bottoms, sports bras, skirts, tights, etc. However, this does not grant anyone the right to sexualize or to objectify these athletes in any way. These uniforms and athletes’ preference for them serve a purpose; these are not “opportunities” for the male gaze to pry.

Ultimately, it is important that we recognize athletes for their skills. Sports are about what athletes can do after all.

Nothing should hinder female athletes from feeling safe and comfortable whenever they compete at the highest stage, and if it takes wearing an attire different from the trend, then so be it.

By Ysa Bakabak

One reply on “Halftime thoughts: Questioning the specificity of athletic wear on women”

I think it’s weird the amount of silence there is on this subject. The difference in dress standards is so clearly geared towards exposing women bodies to scrutiny in ways mens are not. Why are women expected to wear butt exposing outfits for gymnastics; more exposing then the underwear women generally were on a daily basis; when men can wear baggy leggings? How is that clearly sexiest difference acceptable in this day and age? Even in sports like sprinting women seem compelled to conform to the male gaze. Imagine, even when elite athletes, who have honed their bodies for strength and endurance to perform at the highest levels, even then women are not safe from body scrutiny and the insistence of male gaze ascetics. Currently the only sport that seem free from this is football. Let hope as woman’s football gets bigger they are not going to requiring the women to wear skimpier and skimpier clothing

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