This morning my Facebook news feed opened up to reveal a telling juxtaposition of two images and competing headlines.
The first story link documents the decision by German gymnastics competitors to wear full body suits rather than participate in the Olympic Games wearing the much skimpier costumes the sport has adopted for women.
The second story is clickbait that likely leads to exactly what it says: Abby Dahlkemper posing partially clothed for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition.
The dichotomy of those two stories illustrates the sexualization of women’s sports (and women) as a whole.
The Norwegian women’s beach handball team at the Olympics also protested the requirement to wear far less clothing in competition than men. This photo shows the stark difference.
It’s pretty hard to argue that there isn’t a major amount of sexualization of women going on here. The question is whether it was women that pushed competition uniforms to the bare minimum (for comfort or efficiency?) or whether it was men slapping those standards on them?
The question of whether outfits are performance-oriented or exploitation is a tough one to answer. Those volleyball bikini briefs are much smaller than the bun-hugger shorts worn by female track athletes, especially distance runners.
The sight of athletes stripped down to their bathing suits or underwear, as the above story about Abby Dahlkemper hints, is due to public fascination with finely toned bodies. On that front, one could argue that while there are sexual aspects to the outfits––or lack thereof––largely the choice remains with the athletes as to what to wear. But when that choice is removed, there is definition exploitation involved.
Then there are the freedom riders. As these amusing pics from the Undie Run at the Ohio Ironman we attended last weekend reveal, there’s a whole bunch of people who think the world is too prudish for their own good.
As those people sexualizing themselves? Seems like the opposite.
That said, there is pressure on many athletes to “compete” in the world of sexual politics, especially in the social media era. Even top-flight women (and some men) athletes known for setting national records and competing in the Olympics are known to pop a swimsuit shot in their Insta feed now and then. This is Karissa Schweizer, a qualifier in both the 5K and 10K for the Tokyo Olympics. I follow her career and this was her photo before flying off to Japan.
What I see if a fit distance runner with tan lines wrought from miles in the sun. She’s not got an ounce of fat on her of course. Her swimsuit fairly small, but not crazy. This is a photo that both women and men can probably appreciate as she’s a role model for a fit lifestyle.
Is it sexy? I think so. Having followed Karissa and other women athletes for the last few years it is common for most of them to post “glamour” shots now and then. The rest of the time it’s pics of them training, racing, fixing healthy food or hugging their partners or their pets.
I find my wife sexy in a swimsuit too. She’s also fit and works hard to keep her body in shape. She also set a personal record this past weekend in the Ohio Half-Ironman 70.3. She wears a great Zoot suit that compliments her form. Some people might find it too revealing for their taste. The body-hugging gear in triathlon doesn’t try to hide anything. Mostly it is designed to allow athletes to go faster. Flappy shorts or shirts slow you down.
So there’s a bit of performance-based technology behind these athletic styles and pressures to wear them.
I’ve written about this a few times because the needle keeps shifting. At this point, some women are seeking to push the boundaries of what they’re required to wear in competition back from the nearly-naked version to something that lets them be women, still looks attractive, and doesn’t show off every bit of breast or butt or genitalia in the process.
The same thing’s been going on with men’s junk for a while as well. Considering that athletes once competed naked a few thousand years ago, it seems like we’re all struggling with what being naked really means.
Much of the world doesn’t worry about what we see or don’t see on the beach. Nudity is accepted as part of the culture. I think those Undie Runners have it about right.
We have bodies. Deal with it.