The student news source of Iowa City West High

Athletes, not objects

January 20, 2022

“Sport appeal, not sex appeal.” This was the mantra Olympic broadcasters used at the 2021 Tokyo Games to prohibit sexualized media of female athletes at the Olympics. According to the Portrayal Guidelines issued by the International Olympic Committee in July 2021, news companies should refrain from “focusing unnecessarily on looks, clothing or intimate body parts,” while “respecting the integrity of the athlete.”

Volleyball player Sydney Woods ’22 believes the traditional cut of women’s sports uniforms leads to the sexualization of female athletes.

“I think a lot of girls’ sports are very sexualized, especially the uniforms, like swimming, gymnastics, dance and volleyball,” Woods said. “I feel like that’s just how those sports are made. So whenever people think of volleyball, they think of our bodies because we wear short, tight shorts.”

While at school or cheering at football games, cheerleader Alexa King ’23 has also experienced the effects of the cut of her uniform.

“People at school just stare at us because of our uniforms, especially [our] skirts that are really short,” King said. “It’s very uncomfortable.”

Tatiana Schmidt ’23, who has danced at a competitive level for eight years, has noticed the revealing nature of dance costumes starts early.

“I feel like the appropriateness of costumes is just kind of stagnant, so little kids will often wear scandalous costumes,” Schmidt said. “There probably are some [adults] that are uncomfortable with the costumes. I feel like you shouldn’t really be thinking about children in that way though.”

Whenever people think of volleyball, they think of our bodies because we wear short, tight shorts.”

— Sydney Woods '22

In January 2019, UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi scored a perfect 10 floor routine that soon went viral on the Internet, with the video of her performance drawing over 44 million views on Twitter. However, a portion of the comments surrounding the videos were negative ones directed toward Ohashi’s body rather than her skills. Competitive gymnast Bailey Libby ’22 has experienced objectification while training at her gymnastics club.

“I used to train with the boys [gymnastics team], and they would stare at our bodies all the time [and] make comments about what we’re wearing because we train in sports bras,” Libby said. “They made it very uncomfortable to train and feel like yourself in your body.”

Jannell Avila ’23 eyes her opponent at the start of the 160 pound match during a dual meet against City High on Dec. 22. (Owen Aanestad)

Cross country and track athlete Erinn Varga ’24 has also experienced this double standard. During a run on Camp Cardinal, the girls cross country team was whistled at while training in sports bras.

“It’s so normalized in our culture that [the boys team] can take off their shirts, [but] we’re automatically seen as an object for taking off our shirts,” Varga said.

Athletes have protested the historical precedent of sexualized uniforms at the professional level. At the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, Germany’s female gymnasts protested the sexualization of women’s uniforms by wearing full-body unitards instead of the common bikini-cut leotards. However, there were consequences for breaking the rule manual. In November, at the European Beach Handball Championships, the European Handball Federation fined each member of Norway’s women’s team 150 euros for wearing shorts instead of the required bikini bottoms.

Taeger believes the way uniforms fit athletes’ bodies leads to the invalidation of athletic ability.

“Oversexualization happens a lot in swimming … and a lot of it just pertains to how girls’ uniforms fit their bodies,” Taeger said, “and I think a lot of the audience of the sports aren’t as interested in how [athletes] actually perform, but how they look while they perform it.”

[The boys] made it very uncomfortable to train and feel like yourself in your body.”

— Bailey Libby '22

Wrestler Jannell Avila ’23 agrees that an athlete’s success should be recognized rather than their appearance.

“Women’s wrestlers wrestle because they enjoy the sport, and people should recognize them for the success they’re having instead of the way they look while doing it,” Avila said.

At the girls swimming regional meet, the effects of this rhetoric were made clear.

“This girl’s amazing swim that had a seeded top three in the state didn’t matter anymore because the only thing that mattered was her body,” Taeger said.

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