Professional female athletes have been subjected to sexualization for far too long, and they are starting to fight back. We recently wrote about how the Norwegian women’s beach handball team wore shorts instead of bikini bottoms during the 2021 European Beach Handball Championships to protest the European Handball Federation’s sexist uniform rules. Now, the German gymnastics team is following suit at this year’s Tokyo Olympics.
Traditionally, female gymnasts wear bikini-cut leotards, but to push back against the sexualization of women in sports, the German team is wearing unitards that go to their ankles. The Tokyo Olympics are the first Summer Games since former USA Gymnastics national team doctor, Larry Nassar, was sentenced to 176 years in prison for sexually abusing hundreds of gymnasts. Abuse and objectification of young women and girls were said to be a byproduct of the sport’s culture by the athletes at his sentencing.
Male gymnasts’ uniforms provide more coverage than female gymnasts’ uniforms. Men who are competing are usually wearing singlets, with loose shorts for their floor exercises and vault, and long pants on the bar and pommel horse routines.
The German team first debuted their unitards at the European Artistic Gymnastics Championships in April but weren’t sure if they were going to use them again during the Olympic competition.
Sarah Voss, a 21-year-old German competitor said that they only decided to wear them again when they got back together before the meet. “We sat together… and said, OK, we want to have a big competition… We want to feel amazing, we want to show everyone that we look amazing.”
The female athletes of Germany’s Olympic gymnastics team were the only ones to wear unitards during the qualifying rounds at the Tokyo Games, but their decision was supported by others who still opted for bare legs.
American competitor Simone Biles said that while she personally prefers leotards, she “[stands] with their decision to wear whatever they please and whatever makes them feel comfortable.”
Even though the German team didn’t qualify for the finals, perhaps their use of unitards on the Olympic stage will boost the popularity of the unitard in the future.