Updated: May 30
Hello athletes, coaches, mommas, and sports administrators. I want to have a chat with you about a topic that has been overlooked for far too long. We are talking about sports uniforms and the female bottom, which is commonly referred to as the butt, buns, behind, keister, posterior, derriere, fanny, rear, rump, seat, arse or backside. There are numerous ways to describe it, but there aren't enough words to match the number of them being exposed across the country.
As a former volleyball player at The University of Texas in early 90s, I remember receiving a uniform that looked more like underwear than anything else. Admittedly, as a modest person, even short, shorts were never comfortable for me; however, playing in an underwear-type uniform created a frustrating distraction during practice and competitions. I spent way too much energy trying to keep it out of my tush. But as a female athlete, I didn't get to choose my uniform - it was issued to me.
In my sport, I had to perform a wide range of physical activities including jumping, running, diving, stretching, bending, and playing close to the crowd. These movements were not easy to execute while wearing our team's uniform, which we affectionately referred to as "buns." Initially, I found it uncomfortable to wear such revealing attire. But, with time, I became accustomed to it.
But something about the message I was receiving felt off. I was told to be proud of my athletic body and to show it off to young girls as a role model. But I never felt like I gave my consent to wear a uniform that was designed to enhance and expose my body, not my performance.
So, who was making these decisions? Manufacturing companies, sports programs, league policies, marketing firms, coaches, and ultimately women. But when we dive deeper into this conversation, most women tend to blame men. I used to be in that camp too, until I became a mother and realized that I was the one consenting and purchasing these exposing shorts, spanx and suits for my daughter.
In my defense, I didn't want to create a body-shaming experience for my daughter by resisting the uniform, and I didn't want to use my daughter as a way to push against sports cultural norms. As a child, it wasn't her battle to fight, so I stayed silent.
As I moved into the swim community with Olympic level sports, I had a front row seat to observe how male and female athletes were compensated differently. Female athletes were often given lucrative opportunities if they wore less clothing, while male athletes received sponsorships for breaking world-records. Sure, seductive marketing can go both ways, but good luck finding a male beach volleyball player wearing a itybity Speedo. It just doesn't happen.
So, what's the deal with the lack of coverage on female sports uniforms and swimsuits? As an advocate for young girls and female athletes, I believe it's time we start paying attention to the messages being sent to them, both directly and indirectly. Why is it so difficult to find a uniform that covers the backside? Are we inadvertently sending objectifying messages by supporting manufacturing companies who design suits to expose our young girls and women?
I am curious about my role in perpetuating these messages. Coaches and parents, what is your role? Do you have a standard of coverage in your sports environment? Do you support and issue team uniforms that do not fully cover your athletes? Asking questions piques curiosity and help makes us more conscious and mindful of areas where we might be unconsciously consenting to a standard that could be harmful.
Of course, as a parent, I want my daughters to feel proud of their strength and physical abilities. But I'm not willing to use the phrase "be proud of your body" to reframe and justify the objectifying messages that they encounter every day. While it may seem like an insurmountable task to rid ourselves of these messages at a societal level, perhaps we can start by addressing the issue in the context of sports.
Ultimately, I believe that this is a decision that we, as women, can make together and actively participate in for the sake of ourselves and the younger generation. At the very least, we can start by having a conversation about it.
It's worth acknowledging that it might be challenging to find young girls who don't hike their swimsuits up their bottoms regardless of the cut, but even this raises an important question: why do they feel the need to do so? What underlying message have they internalized?
ps. I'm not letting men off the hook on this subject. Their role is more suited for a book than a blog.