They’re cute and stylish, and many people are saying that they’re a great way to empower female athletes by not forcing them to wear revealing clothing, but is that the full story?
The History of Leotards in Gymnastics
Leotards have been a standard in women’s gymnastics since the 1930s. They were sleeveless but also had lower leg lines that offered more coverage.
Women Gymnasts at the 1948 Olympics
Later, long sleeves became the norm. In the 1970s, gymnastics gained more crowd interest. The gymnasts’ skills were seen as more of an art ─ like ballet ─ so their leotards were redesigned to mimic dancewear.
Nadia Comaneci at the 1976 Olympics
Improved fabric quality and more colorful leotards have become the norm in the modern era. But the unitards of Germany’s Olympic gymnasts are a new development.
Is a Leotard Really Necessary?
Acrobats often wear unitards and find the style to be just as freeing as leotards. I did acrobatics for a year when I was 12 years old. I was a swimmer for six years. I have worn both styles and each has its own benefits and drawbacks. But that’s not at the forefront of the conversation. Neither is fashion (no matter how much I love the bold pink unitards).
Female gymnasts who felt uncomfortable training and/or competing in leotards due to their revealing nature never received much support from training facilities or the press in the past. So what changed?
Politics and Abuse
In 2015, a Muslim gymnast was blasted for wearing the standard attire to compete. Despite winning six medals, more attention was placed on the criticisms from others about her faith.
In 2019, Britain changed their strict leotard rules to accommodate trans athletes. Boys who identified as girls were allowed to wear shorts or tights to avoid embarrassment. The mother of one nine-year-old girl spoke out, frustrated that parents had been asking for the rules to be changed for years but that no one would allow it until a biological boy wanted to enter a girl’s competition.
Sexual abuse scandals across the gymnastics world are also being noted as one of the reasons the dress code needs to change. Simone Biles herself spoke about the sexual abuse she suffered on her path to greatness.
For some reason, it takes political unrest and male intervention to gain progress. That needs to change.
These are serious issues that lead many to wonder, why can't women have more of a say in sports uniforms BEFORE these kinds of political issues surface? Fashion options are always helpful in allowing women to better express themselves, but for some reason, it takes political unrest and male intervention to gain progress. That needs to change.
The point is, we need to take female concerns more seriously. Whether competing in the Olympics or just kids having fun, what we wear matters to us. Thankfully, now women aren't having to show as much of their bodies if they don’t wish to, and I consider that a win.
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