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At Tokyo Olympics, women gymnasts wear full bodysuits to protest sexualization of women athletes

At Tokyo Olympics, women gymnasts wear full bodysuits to protest sexualization of women athletes

Gymnasts traditionally wear leotards, a one-piece garment, but many are speaking about it being comfortable and makes them unnecessarily sexualized.

Women gymnasts from Germany are ditching leotards in favor of unitards, making them stand out during a team qualifying round at the Tokyo Olympics. They felt sexualized and uncomfortable in leotards, the traditional form of clothing for gymnasts, and wanted to change that. The German gymnasts said it was also about having the right to choose what to wear. “We wanted to show that every woman, everybody, should decide what to wear,” said Elisabeth Seitz, one of the German gymnasts, reported The Washington Post. They first wore the bodysuits during the European championships in April. At the time, the German Gymnastics Federation said the gymnasts had taken the decision to wear unitards to counter the sexualization in the sport.

TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 25: Elisabeth Seitz of Team Germany competes on the balance beam during Women's Qualification on day two of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Gymnastics Centre on July 25, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

 

“We women all want to feel good in our skin,” said Germany’s Sarah Voss in April, reported BBC. “In the sport of gymnastics, it gets harder and harder as you grow out of your child’s body. As a little girl, I didn’t see the tight gym outfits as such a big deal. But when puberty began, when my period came, I began feeling increasingly uncomfortable.” said Seitz. She also hoped it would give others the confidence to ditch their leotards. "We also set an example and wore a new type of suit. The symbol applies to all gymnasts who may feel uncomfortable or even sexualized in normal suits. Because, in our opinion, every gymnast should be able to decide in which type of suit she feels most comfortable - and then do gymnastics," she wrote on Instagram.



 

The decision was primarily taken by the gymnasts. “We girls had a big influence on this,” said Voss. "The coaches were also very much into it. They said they want us to feel the most confident and comfortable in any case. It just makes you feel better and more comfortable.” There is a visible difference in the attire worn by men and women during gymnastic events. While men choose between loose-fitting shorts or full-length pants, depending on the events they are competing for, women have for decades worn leotards.



 

A leotard is a tight, stretchy, one-piece garment that gymnasts wear and it's named after Jules Léotard, a French acrobat who is credited with inventing it, according to Vocabulary. Many women said they feel uncomfortable and sexualized while wearing leotards. Unitards are allowed as long as the color of the leggings match. Unitards are also often chosen by gymnasts for reasons of cultural and religious modesty. “We sat together today and said, ‘Okay, we want to have a big competition. We want to feel amazing, we want to show everyone that we look amazing,'” said Sarah Voss. 

TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 25: Simone Biles of Team United States reacts after competing on balance beam during Women's Qualification on day two of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Gymnastics Centre on July 25, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

 

The German gymnasts have also received support from their compatriots. “I think those are really cool,” said Team USA’s Sunisa Lee, 18. “I like it a lot because people should be able to wear what they feel comfortable in, and it shouldn’t be a leotard if you don’t want to wear it.” America's star gymnast Simon Biles also offered her support but added that she prefers the leotard, cause at 4-foot-8, she feels it might make her look short. “But I stand with their decision to wear whatever they please and whatever makes them feel comfortable,” said Biles. “So if anyone out there wants to wear a unitard or leotard, it’s totally up to you.”



 

 

Earlier this month, the Norwegian women’s beach handball team was fined for refusing to wear bikini bottoms, which they said were uncomfortable and sexualizes them. The rules mandate them to wear bikini bottoms that cover only 10 centimeters on the side. As we reported, the Norwegian team captain Katinka Haltvik hit out the sexist rule. "We are forced to play with panties. It is so embarrassing."

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