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Lauredhel is an Australian woman and mother with a disability. She blogs about disability and accessibility, social and reproductive justice, gender, freedom from violence, the uses and misuses of language, medical science, otters, gardening, and cooking.

20 Responses

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  1. Eden
    Eden at |

    I’m going to be optiimistic (it is the Olympics!) and hope the survival of women’s sport doesn’t depend on the skin show. People (including uniform designers) are just so exposed to a culture where women’s bodies and skin are always on display. I hope that whoever designs clothing for the next Olympics designs with functionality as their first priority (for all the different body types wearing the uniform). On a related note the outfits for the Aussie team in the opening ceremony were quite good, but I was watching in the US and might have missed something ’cause we were on screen for about ten seconds.

    So excited for the Olympics! So many amazing athletes! Fully expect to be eye-rolling at the blatant and subtle sexism that (has and) will occur, but with online streaming we can ignore some of the more egregious commentators/ events. :)

  2. Chris
    Chris at |

    Interesting to see that the mens gymnastics uniforms are long pants. Kind of wierd that the men’s uniforms uncovers the arms (men made to show off arm muscles?), but covers the legs and the women’s does the reverse! I did a few years of competitive gymnastics as a child and us boys wore short leotards (no longs for arms or legs) as well, but the boys wore shorts as well whereas the girls didn’t.

    I did read a news report that the Australia beach volleyball team are wearing long sleeved and legged clothing underneath their bikinis this year at the olympics because its simply too cold when they’re playing.

  3. Megpie71
    Megpie71 at |

    It’s probably worth pointing out: the way our elite female athletes are dressed influences what’s acceptable and available in the public domain for even the most amateur female sportsperson. These over-sexualised and overly-skimpy outfits mean someone who isn’t in the “physically attractive to look at” range has an incredibly difficult time finding sporting wear. It also means people who aren’t in the “attractive to look at” range can wind up finding it very difficult to actually participate in sporting pursuits in public.

    I’m size 24 in dresses, over forty, and 5’2″ tall. I don’t partake of sporting activities (even though it would be great for my figure, my overall health, and my social skills) because quite frankly, I don’t fancy the thought of dealing with any of the following:

    1) Heading down to the nearest sporting goods shop to discover the only female attire they have that will fit me is some of the shoes, and maybe the odd sweatband.

    2) Trying to find the money (out of my extremely low income) to cover the cost of what sporting wear is available for a person of my physical size (here’s a hint: a sports bra alone is likely to set me back at least $100, if I’m lucky).

    3) Finding such sporting gear which is available in my size is inadequate for the purpose it’s supposed to be serving. In this category I put all the swimsuits for size 24 women which appear to be designed on the principle “no woman ever goes past a B-cup in breast size” (and therefore all upper torso designs can be made with the archetypical B-cup in mind). I haven’t gone swimming in five years because I can’t find a swimsuit anywhere my E-cup tits won’t pour out of the top of in the first minute or so.

    4) Having purchased the gear, heading out to participate in my activity-of-choice and dealing with the looks and comments of various interested bystanders. (This accounts for at least part of my dislike of joining gyms – I’m there, I’m doing my workout, and I’m getting these LOOKS from the other people there which imply I’m getting fat cooties all over their nice temple to thinness).

    Now, I’m not saying the uniforms for our Australian Olympic athletes are directly to blame for all of this. However, I’d say there’s a certain problematic attitude involved which says a woman who is involved in sporting activity still has to be appealing to the male gaze at all times (and if she isn’t, why is she doing it?).

  4. Eden
    Eden at |

    @Megpie- judgmental people at the gym are terrible, I’m sorry. Also, I don’t know why swimsuits for recreational swimmers are designed for people with low body fat and/ or small breasts. I had to go online and read reviews to find a swimsuit that I wouldn’t fall out of when I sprinted! It’s ridiculous- and obviously foolish in terms of profits and whatnot.

    If sports clothing manufacturers would just make functional clothing (if you’re going to include pockets, add zippers!) it would make exercising so much easier. The idea that we should look good while working out (and should be working out to look good) is so obviously flawed. Which is one of the reasons why the sporting uniforms of the Aussie team is so important, I guess.

  5. Mary
    Mary at | *

    In which sports do men have less skin coverage? … some swimmers (though all-over suits are pretty common too)

    Not since 2010, because of the controversy over the advantages that full-body swimsuits appeared to confer: between 2008 and 2010, swimming world records fell at something like 3 times the rate in immediately preceding years. Since 1 January 2010 the FINA guidelines for swimwear are:

    … swimwear for men shall not extend above the navel nor below the knee, and for women, shall not cover the neck, extend past the shoulder, nor shall extend below knee.

    The result is that elite swimming (worldwide) can be definitively added to the list of sports where men wear less, since covering their chests is forbidden.

    I don’t know enough about any elite sport to have much of an opinion about what the optimal clothing is independent of sexualisation, but the skirt in the hockey uniform doesn’t look like in the picture like it has the kind of give that would allow for long strides when running, so might actually hinder performance.

    For amateur athletic wear, I have issues with swimsuits too (6’4″ tall, size 16–18 in tops, D/DD-ish breasts, I cobble together men’s swim shorts with Speedo long two piece athletic swim tops but they only go to size 16 with a B-ish cup so it’s a literal squeeze), and in addition they suffer from seasonal availability problems despite swimming being a year-round sport in much of Australia: athletic swimwear is sold in spring and decorative in spring/summer. Start swimming at any other time and extra tough luck finding a suit.

  6. Bri
    Bri at |

    I read an interview with Natalie Cook and she wasn’t happy she would need to wear more clothes at the Olympics than the usual bikini (so she would be warm). She said she preferred the bikini and in fact, would prefer to be naked when she played!

    So perhaps *some* of the skimpy uniforms are designed taking into consideration what the players want?

  7. Mindy
    Mindy at |

    I’ve no doubt that is true for some of the athletes Bri, but I’m always suspicious of the claims that skimpy clothing is better for athletes to compete in. I always wonder why this only applies if the athlete is female in some sorts. The blokes in beach volleyball seem to be able to play just as well in singlet tops and loose shorts.

    There was a Kickstarter a few weeks ago that Kath (@fatheffalump) tweeted about for aa startup company for exercise gear designed and made by fat women for fat women.

  8. Tori
    Tori at |

    I think what I’d really like to see, both as an athlete myself and when watching elite athletic competitions, is more individual choice when it comes to uniform (or general availability of athletic wear) components. When I was reading through the comments in A defense of skimpy running clothes at Fit and Feminist, I was struck by how much variation there was in preferences. Some of us wanted full tanks and long shorts, some wanted sports bras and long shorts, some wanted full tanks and short shorts, some wanted sports bras and short shorts — and all had a performance or comfort-based reason for their choice. This was with a small sample size and within the same basic athletic activity (distance running, which admittedly encompasses a lot of varieties of “distance”). Bodies — even bodies competing in the same sport — are different, and it would stand to reason that different people would have different needs and preferences.

    I understand that this isn’t going to be feasible in an all-on team sport (e.g., basketball, soccer, etc.). There’s a legitimate case to be made there for all members of the team wearing identical uniforms. However, in events where athletes perform individually (e.g., gymnastics, diving, at least most track and field events), I can’t see why athlete athletes shouldn’t get to choose their own pieces from, say, a pre-designed and pre-approved selection.

  9. Aqua of the Questioners
    Aqua of the Questioners at |

    I’m with Tori – do sportswear designers really not know that different people have different preferences? Is it really feasible that a country as medal-obsessed as Australia has uniforms based on looks rather than what the athletes demand for optimal personal performance?

    And even team sports do not need identical uniforms – AFL and I think other football codes allow players a fair bit of choice within an overall team look. As long as you have the colours the same (and I mean the long and short sleeved versions made at the same time on the same equipment) the players will look like a team.

  10. Yara
    Yara at |

    For those looking for plus size active wear, search ‘Cult of California’. They have very fashion-forward stuff up to size 30. In the USA of course! The availability of such things in Australia is nonexistent apparently. I was in Target yesterday and they had a display with activewear and promoting 30 minutes of exercise a day as great for your health. No plus sizes of course. The best we get is a few ‘casuals’ – black trackies or leggings, plain t-shirts and sweatshirts; nothing actually designed for sport. Grr.

  11. iorarua
    iorarua at |

    ‘This change ostensibly took place to enable the participation of more women from countries and cultures which restrict the amount of skin women may show’

    While the change to beach volleyball costume rules is welcome, it’s disappointing that it’s motivated by cultural concerns, not gender political arguments. In other words, it’s merely the dude rules of one patriarchy respecting the dude rules of another patriarchy.

  12. Eric
    Eric at |

    FWIW, the mens gymnastic uniforms depends on which discipline they’re on. Some use full trousers, but vault and floor they typically wear some very short-shorts. Not sure I’d lump them in the sexist category.

    And athletics uniform decisions are typically left up to the individual athlete. Tight/loose, skin or full-body suit (ala Cathy Freeman) is up to them. If they choose to use their bodies for marketing purposes, that’s really the athletes prerogative.

  13. Arcadia
    Arcadia at |

    I am wondering how much control over the uniforms falls to the designers, and how much to the various sports governing bodies. If the movie (not doco) I saw is anything to go by, gymnastics is pretty strict about what you can wear, and how you wear it.

    Even at a very junior level in tennis, I was forbidden to wear tracksuit pants, and had to wear a netball skirt (because that makes sense, right?), whatever the weather. One player was granted an exemption on religious/cultural grounds. Once I was discovered not to be her, I was told to remove the pants post haste.

    And on the equality stakes, male and female rowers dress the same.

    I think in some sports the athletes have choice from a preapproved range, you’ll notice swimmers wear a small variety of suits, for example.

  14. Mindy
    Mindy at |

    That is true Arcadia, but it doesn’t mean that the governing body is necessarily thinking only of the athletes comfort when making those rules. Beach volleyball is the outstanding example here. The width of the women’s bikini bottoms is mandated to be miniscule. Is that really necessary for the sport to be played?

  15. lauredhel
    lauredhel at |

    Mary: You might like “Olympics Or Gay P*rn? It’s hard to tell sometimes.”

    [Edited to add: Fairly NSFW, in case it wasn’t obvious, but dangly bits are censored.]

  16. Arcadia
    Arcadia at |

    I agree, Mindy.

  17. Mary
    Mary at |

    Lauredhel: I had seen that and was amused, yes :-)

  18. Tei Tetua
    Tei Tetua at |

    The women playing volleyball don’t have to wear bikinis–but I wonder how many have chosen anything else, assuming the British weather isn’t too cold. And if some of the players have wanted to stay more covered, what did they say about it?

  19. tigtog
    tigtog at |

    Relevant post on Sociological Images links to a newspaper photo essay on what it would be like if various male athletes were photographed in the same way that the female beach volleyball players are photographed.

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