Are Unitards Enough To Fight ‘Sexualisation’ Of Women In Sports?

German gymnasts wear unitards: German gymnasts ditched the common bikini-cut leotards to fight the sexualisation of women in the sport and showed up wearing full-body suits at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics event. German gymnasts’ move has started a long overdue conversation on an issue that women gymnasts have been quietly dealing with for decades. However, are unitards enough?

According to reports, the gymnastics team from Germany, that includes Sarah Voss, Pauline Schäfer, Elisabeth Seitz and Kim Bui, wore the unitards initially on Thursday during a training session. However, the decision to compete in them was only made shortly before the meet. This wasn’t the first time though, that women gymnasts had challenged the dress code assigned to them.

Earlier this year, a few athletes wore similar outfits at the European Championships. So what prompted the German team to go for unitards at Olympics of all events? As per Sarah Voss they took the decision as they “wanted to make youngsters feel safe in the sport”.

The 21-year-old gymnast said that they wanted to make sure “everyone feels comfortable”. She further mentioned that they wanted to establish that the athletes can wear any costume whether it is in a long leotard or a short one yet “look amazing and feel amazing”.

Most gymnasts opt for a leotard, which is the convention, others who cover their legs in international competition do it for religious reasons. Also, outfits covering legs are authorized in international competitions but have exclusively been worn for the latter reason up until now.

Voss said they wanted to become “role models” and the team’s actions drew praise from their fellow athletes.

Norwegian gymnast Julie Erichsen expressed that the stand that German gymnasts took shows that they have “guts” to be present in a huge arena and show “girls from all over the world” that they can choose what they want to wear.

Why this is significant

Sexualisation of young athletes can put them in harm’s way, without them or their guardians even realising so. In 2018, the USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for sexually abusing scores of female gymnasts, including Olympic champions. The 57-year-old has abused more than 150 women and girls, including four-time Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles, under the guise of medical treatment.

Additionally, the sports doctor, who has worked as the US national gymnastics team’s physician for more than two decades, is already serving a 60-year sentence for child pornography convictions. Nassar’s misdemeanors came to light when brave women gymnasts put their foot down and took a stand against him, encouraging women who were also abused in the past to speak up.

Are unitards enough though?

As it is with what women face in various fields, sexualisation in gymnastics is a multifaceted problem. Women gymnasts shouldn’t have to cover themselves up, to create a safe space for themselves. What needs to change is the gaze and atmosphere that compromises their safety. However, what German team’s move has done is to start a relevant conversation around the issue, that will hopefully steer us in the right direction, and make us introspect the way women athletes are left feeling vulnerable simply because of their gender.

The views expressed are the author’s own.

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