Monday, August 18, 2008

Olympic Fashion as a Feminist Issue

Talk of uniforms and body politics in the Olympics has been covered throughout the feminist blogosphere (check here for a summary and here for a generally great post). As usual, the word has not spread so quickly throughout the news circuit. So imagine my surprise when I see a lengthy article about uniforms at the Olympics over on ABC News. (I'm telling you, these people are after my feminist heart-- first a story on men's skirts, then intersexuality, now this!)

The article touches on some of the sports with the biggest uniform differences - namely, beach volleyball and gymnastics - and tries to explain the functionality of the uniforms. Apparently, the athletes themselves are the ones that prefer to wear their respective uniforms. I thought it was interesting that they mentioned one woman, Melody Drnach, who wanted people to take a closer look at the disparities in the uniforms, but she is not an athlete herself.

This made me curious to find out how other athletes feel. It seems that a lot of the opinions we have about what we see women wear mostly come from a place outside of the actual sport. If it makes more sense for these women to wear these uniforms, then maybe we should be looking at how comfortable men are in their own uniforms. Or, perhaps, it should all be more of an individual choice rather than a standard in each sport. The article suggests that there is already not that much detail in regulations about uniforms themselves, so perhaps it's a possibility.

They also mentioned something my guy and I talked about a few days ago, which is that fashion also plays a role, with uniforms sometimes just changing over time to what people find appealing. Admittedly, I'd rather they analyze that a bit more, because to me it seems that part of the discussion needs to center around what "fashion" means in this case, but, there's only so much detail any article can have I suppose.

What do you all think about this? As spectators, are we over-analyzing the uniform deal? Or is there a deeper link here than the athletes themselves are recognizing? Also, do you think there is a connection between the fashion of the sport and pressures that come up (particularly eating disorders)?

(Cross-posted at Jump off the Bridge.)


habladora said...

Great post. I feel like you are right to point out that how the athletes feel is what's important.

I think that some of the feeling like there's a double-standard at work here comes from how the athletes are photographed for things like Yahoo! News (lots of butt-only shots of the women's volleyball teams), and how they are overwhelmingly portrayed in ads. I think the hope is that Olympians will be admired for their achievements, rather than their sex appeal.

On a side note, there is a really sports-affirming piece over at Feministe today (here) that I think our readers might enjoy - even those who don't usually love the Olympics. It suggests that athletes can help girls see their bodies as powerful, and provide strong female role models for girls.

Mächtige Maus said...

Great post!

I have to tell you, the thought of playing beach volleyball in a bikini escapes me. But, then again, the thought of playing beach volleyball escapes me. We are, after all, talking about sweat and an awful lot of sand.

It's true though, without participating in a particular sport I don't think there can be an honest assessment of what works.

I'd have to ponder more upon the fashion of the sport and eating disorders. I've mentioned before, boxing and wrestling competitors undergo dramatically unhealthy weight loss methods prior to an event. There is nothing particularly fashionable about those events. They simply have weight classes.

habladora said...

I think that having weight classes is different from encouraging eating disorders. Of course, I'm sure that the one can lead to the other, but I have some nieces who, at 5 and 8 years-of-age are being to told to watch their diets by their gymnastics coaches. There aren't weight classes at their age, but age and skill classes. Telling kids that young that they have to follow dietary rules other than those that keep them healthy, rules that in fact are aimed at keeping them slim, it strikes me as irresponsible of the adults involved.

I'm sure I've seen studies on this, but it might take a few hours for me to track them down.

sally said...

Forgive my sports ignorance, but how young do boxers and wrestlers start training for their sport? I think the problem with something like gymnastics is that, like Habladora mentioned, they start pushing for weight loss from such an early age, that the future problems are almost inevitable.

I also think there's a bit of a difference from maintaining a weight class (which might mean losing OR gaining a bit of weight) and just encouraging as much weight loss as possible.

Mächtige Maus said...

I disagree with the idea that having weight classes is different. Maintaining a weight class can mean losing a *significant* amount of weight. If a boy is naturally 130 pounds, but is trying to qualifying at a weight class that is a good 10-15 pounds below that natural weight then it is basically the same thing. If it is thought of as encouraging an eating disorder for one, then it seems it has to be questioned for the other. In fact, we can question the other extreme as well...little boy football players destined to become either offensive or defensive linemen that weigh easily over 300 pounds.

I was told to watch my weight in high school. I never found it to be irresponsible because it never was extreme. I'm talking about watch your weight within +/- 5 of my ideal 118 pound competition weight. There was just as much concern when I was not eating "enough" as when I was eating "too much". Either way, I was still eating easily 5000+ calories a day at the high point of my training. Athletes can't get to an elite level without eating well and a lot.

sally said...

Good point Maus. =)

I guess I just always think about people who are in a certain weight class as being there b/c they can easily maintain that weight when, obviously, that is not always the case.