Pretty in Pink: The Sexism of Female Sportswear

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By Pauline Shrosbree

A man playing tennis is expected to wear a simple shirt along with knee-length shorts. This is
practical, because it allows for unrestricted movement. A woman playing tennis – hold on, any sport
– is expected to wear a tight shirt along with short shorts or a mini skirt. How does she perform to
the best of her potential in this? This is problematic as it restricts the movement of the player and
reduces the comfort of the athlete, instead of allowing for swift and unobstructed movement.
So why is this allowed? It is thought that skimpier and “sexier” sports clothing allows for higher
popularity of female athletes. The consensus is that women will be more interested in the sports
with regards to the fashion aspect of viewership, and that men will be more interested due to the
opportunity for the objectification of the female body.
As stated by senior football administrator, Sepp Blatter, “Let the women play in more feminine
clothes.” He suggests that if women were to wear tighter shorts, this would increase the viewership
of female football. Although there should be nothing wrong with women wearing tight shorts if they
so wish, or choosing to look more “fashion-conscious”, female athletes and consumers should not be
forced into buying impractical sportswear due to the limited available variety that women are
restricted to.
Brands such as Nike often sponsor athletes’ uniforms. However, in the case of female sportswear,
the attention is placed mainly on the current trend of activewear, rather than its practicality and
comfort. The reason for this is to attract a wider audience of female consumers. In this way, not only
does the athlete have to make do with clothing that hampers performance, but the female
consumer population is being manipulated into buying into continued opportunities for the hyper-
sexualisation of sportswomen.
In a recent example, Nike released a “sports nightie” for its female tennis players. The sports
uniform is literally a white flowing nightie which flies up uncontrollably with the slightest movement
of the player. Not only did it get tied up in the athletes’ hands while performing, but many of the
sportswomen involved felt uncomfortable as they found the dresses were too revealing.
This was so impractical that players such as Swedish Rebecca Paterson and British Katie Boulter had
to modify theirs in order to play more practically. Paterson, who chose to play with a long sleeve
shirt over the dress stated in an interview that, “When I was serving, it was coming up, and I felt the
dress was just everywhere.” Other players such as Serena Williams and Sabine Lisicki completely
refused to wear it.
The fact that women are supplied with clothing which does not support the main aim of top
performance is just another example of the extent to which women’s sports is disrespected,
sexualised and subordinated.

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