Senior Shriya Sawant is a competitive gymnast and often struggles to feel completely comfortable given the fitted nature of her uniforms and the sexualization of the sportswear she has seen on the internet.
“There are definitely some sports where uniforms go too far and clearly the intention is to sexualize the athletes,” Sawant said.
She has seen this create body image issues in many athletes, even from a young age. Sawant said this created an environment where jokes and self-deprecating comments are rife among his teammates.
“I try not to think too much about how my body looks in leotards or sportswear, but I still find myself stressing about it every now and then,” Sawant said.
Recently, the negative effects of such differences between uniforms for men’s and women’s sports and athlete movements to contradict these issues have gained media attention.
German Olympic gymnast Elisabeth Seitz made waves by choosing to wear a full bodysuit over a leotard during competition and defend for others to do so during the Olympics last summer.
Sawant said she sees this move as a beneficial change that will help many athletes feel more comfortable participating in their sport.
I try not to think too much about how my body looks in leotards or sportswear, but I still find myself stressing about it every now and then.
– Shriya Sawant, senior
“Women should have more choice with uniforms because a lot of women don’t feel comfortable showing their skin while others are okay with it,” Sawant said. “I also like that women are allowed to wear black shorts if they want to during competition, although I don’t think a lot of coaches know that, and some don’t even allow it.”
Although sportswear for men and women often differ within the same sport, Sawant said that these differences don’t bother her as much as the general sexualization of the sportswear a woman might choose to wear.
Cici Bailey, senior, practices aerial arts where a large part of uniform design relates to functionality when working with harnesses and other forms of aerial suspension.
“Suits have to be designed for functionality first, because if they don’t work, you won’t perform well,” Bailey said.
Bailey is someone who has used her social media platform to advocate for recognition of the issues she has seen regarding this idea of gender roles in sportswear. Earlier this year, a new stories of a young cheerleader who was murdered garnered national attention.
According to media reports, a 13-year-old Florida cheerleader was murdered and possibly raped by a classmate while wearing her cheerleader uniform. Her alleged murderer is now awaiting trial for first degree murder and will be tried as an adult.
“The murderer’s and rapist’s classmates stood up for her and said she deserved it because of what she was wearing,” Bailey said. “There is certainly a huge stigma surrounding what women wear and that it would actually make a difference.”
Suits should be designed for functionality first, because if they aren’t functional, you won’t perform well.
– Cici Bailey, senior
Bailey played lacrosse and remembers many differences beyond uniforms. Much less protective gear is worn in women’s lacrosse as the rules specify much less aggressive interactions between teams with no checking or hitting allowed.
Often there are few opportunities for women to play in male-dominated sports, and when they do, there’s a lot of stigma around it, Bailey said. Although this can also be seen in relation to men’s interest in generally female dominated sports.
“It should also go both ways,” Bailey said. “If the girl wants to wear the pants and the long sleeves or if the guy wants to wear the skirt and the tank top, they should be able to do that. I don’t see a reason for that.
Ryan Patterson, a sophomore, said he felt the same in the two years he spent as a cheerleader in his youth. While people were mostly supportive, he recalled a time when he received negative messages on social media regarding a post he made about his involvement in the sport.
“I never let that kind of behavior put me off, ”Patterson said.
While he feels comfortable in his uniform consisting of longer pants and a long-sleeved shirt, Patterson said he and his fellow cheerleaders believed the girls’ uniforms should have been more comfortable and less revealing.
Patterson finds no advantage in the differences between male and female uniforms in the sport.
“I think the revealing outfits had several misogynistic reasons behind them,” Patterson said. “These uniforms were designed only to be attractive to people, and when mostly girls aged 12 to 16 wear them, I find the nature of the uniforms downright gross.”
As someone who has had body image issues in the past, Patterson said the design of the uniforms, if he should have worn them as well, would have caused this problem more.
“I think a complete overhaul of the more modest uniforms is essential for the comfort and well-being of cheerleaders,” Patterson said.