From the sideline: Sexualization of sports uniforms

design: Lily Clark

When the first Olympic games were held in Athens, Greece in 1896, it was only men participating; but, today women’s sports continue to prosper next to their male counterparts. However, look no further than the uniforms to see that these women’s wardrobes are rooted in sexism. 

One such example is the national Norwegian women’s beach handball team. They complained on numerous accounts about the bikini bottoms they were required to wear. Since these complaints were ignored, they decided to wear shorts in a championship game against Spain in July 2021 to protest. They stated that the bottoms were not practical when diving into the sand, something the sport often required. 

However, each member of the 10-person team was fined about $175 each for going against the rules, according to npr.org. 

Some sports like basketball, soccer and softball have uniforms that are similar to male counterparts. They are dressing for competition. Yet, others like tennis and volleyball are a different story. It is normalized in these sports for women to wear skirts and tight spandex. 

Although it may make the sport easier for the women playing, take a look at original volleyball uniforms and it can be seen that the women are wearing longer shorts and less tight-fitted tops. So, throughout the years women’s volleyball uniforms seem to have adapted to what is considered acceptable to society and to appease the “male gaze”.

The male gaze is a term referring to the sexualization of women by men. It essentially empowers men and views women in society as the “object” of male desire, according to verywellmind.com. 

One example in tennis is the difference between Serena Willaims, an American tennis player and Novak Djokovic, a Serbian tennis player. Both are or have been ranked as the No. 1 tennis player for women and men. However, a single Google search of each player shows a drastic difference in their uniforms.

While Djokovic is often pictured in knee length shorts and a short sleeved athletic top, Williams is often pictured in tight tank tops and skirts, although some images show her wearing spandex-type pants the tops and pants are often skin tight. 

It could be argued that the reason female athletes wear shorter tight bottoms, sports bras and tight shirts is because it makes the sport easier. But if that is true, why are the men’s uniforms so drastically different? 

Having cheered at the high school, I can definitely pinpoint a difference in the men’s and women’s uniforms. The boys have the option of knee-length shorts and pants while the girls are pretty much stuck to the short skirts unless given the opportunity to wear warm-up pants. Nothing against the cheer program, the same uniforms are worn for many high schools. In addition many all-star cheerleaders wear spandex. 

Personally, I love cheerleading- I just wish the skirts were a little bit longer. 

Golf is one sport that has odd restrictions in favor of the men. While women often wear skirts or shorts, men are prohibited to wear shorts in some PGA tournaments in order to appear more professional wearing pants. Although the male wardrobe is sometimes affected by restrictions, like mentioned in golf, it is a much more prominent problem in that of women’s sports. 

It is time for a culture change. Women in sports need to be solely judged on their athleticism instead of their perceived femininity. 

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