The 2016 Rio Olympics are quickly approaching as people around the world are prepped to show off their national pride, root for their favorite athletes and watch history take place.
As we know, there’s a plethora of sports represented at the summer Olympics and viewers tune in to see who will take home the bronze, silver and gold medals. What many of us do not take into account is the immense amount of effort that goes into the athletes looking the part of a true Olympian.
Looking like an Olympian is not limited to just fashion; the women and men of the Olympic games work day in and day out to gain the strength and endurance necessary to overcome the many challenges of their competitive sport. While achieving top physical shape is certainly conducive to (if not desirable) for assuming a traditional masculine gender role, particularly in sport, the same is not always true for women.
Many Olympian women have admitted to feelings of insecurity or even body-shame as a result of their athletics build, and even more have begun to question whether the traditionally revealing, superhero-esque, (and often mandatory) costuming of the Games is only making things worse.
UFC bantamweight fighter, Jessica Eye states, “I’ve always had an athletic build, so sometimes I didn’t fill out tank tops the right way, or I couldn’t wear certain outfits because my legs were bigger, my calves were bigger, or my body was more athletic than your typical female, with a big chest and a giant butt and skinny legs. To me, it took me getting older that I was like, ‘You know what, I like how I am.’ I like having big legs! I like having wide shoulders! I like those things now.
Muscles aren’t just for men anymore, and these gold-medal women are proof of that. Their bodies are sleek and engineered to compete at the top of their respective sport, and the envy of many people around the world. And while their physique is enviable, many of their bodies are deemed ‘unfeminine’ in mainstream conversations.
Consider the fact that many of these athletes have yet to meet adulthood. Most are still basking in their young adolescent years and would naturally be insecure of their budding physical features, even without the Olympian title.
As the 2016 Olympic games will feature uniforms designed by Ralph Lauren for team USA, H&M for Sweden, Stella McCartney for the UK, and Lacoste for France, fashion and image have always played an integral part in the pageantry of the Olympic Games. So we pose the question, “Why do designers find it necessary to restrict their designs for female Olympians to body suits and bikinis to expose so much skin?”
Understandably, the tighter and the smaller the garment, the less weight there is for the athlete to successfully run, jump and swim. Other than the benefit of velocity, there has to be another reason for why designers choose to create revealing uniforms.
Nineteen-year-old Olympic gymnast Simone Biles made this notion quite evident when she confessed to New York Magazine that she wanted to embrace her muscles after a long journey of body shaming.
She has won four consecutive medals, three world medals, and is predicted to win the Olympic all around title. With Simone on the team, the girls U.S. gymnastics team could potentially win back to back gold medals. Aside from her many accomplishments and promising future, how her body appears to the world remains a topic that concerns her.
She claims that most of the pressure that she receives come from media outlets. She has been teased for being a “ripped” tween on numerous occasions. To avoid negative remarks, she would cover her arms with a jacket. Once she began working out more, she grew confident in herself and her muscles. She knew that it was her muscles that guided her to her achievements. “Once I started going to the gym more, I realized that … it wasn’t weird. I have these muscles because I do the sport that I do.”
Fortunately, there has been a change in requirements for women Olympic uniforms. As of 2012, the International Volleyball Federation decided to permit female volleyball players to wear shorts and long sleeve tops out of respect for cultural beliefs of some participating countries.
According to Telegraph, the new permit states that “shorts of a maximum length of three centimeters (1.18 inches) above the knee, and sleeved or sleeveless tops” are now required for Olympic women attire. Even with the new permit in place, this doesn’t mean that there will be complete banishment of bikinis because there are actually players who enjoy sporting the “sexy” look.
In a USA Today interview, the U.S. Olympian Kerri Walsh expressed, “We need to be wearing bikinis. You don’t want to be wearing baggy clothes and be lost in your clothes… we found something that is functional and sassy at the same time.”
On the other hand, there are some who find the revealing uniforms downright offensive. The Australian Sports Commission, published a fact sheet on “sexploitation” in sports, which stated:
Women’s beach volleyball, on the other hand, has introduced uniforms intentionally to focus attention on the athletes’ bodies rather than for any technological, practical or performance-enhancing reasons. Women must compete in bra-style tops and bikini bottoms that must not exceed six centimetres in width at the hip (men compete in shorts and singlets).
Body image is certainly not a gender specific issue, but the reason behind revealing uniforms for women definitely strikes a nerve. Having to wear revealing or provocative uniforms to successfully perform in an Olympic game does not seem 100% accurate.
Body image is a universal issue for women from all walks of life. There should always be an alternative for female athletes when they do not feel comfortable due to cultural beliefs or modesty preference. Sex has always been what sells, but it’s about time for the talent to sell itself.