Bun Huggers: To Wear or Not to Wear
The evolution of athletic apparel has come a long way from the knickers and long-sleeved blouses worn by early female athletes to the colorful, individualistic styles worn by athletes such as Florence Griffith-Joyner. The topic of athletic uniforms sometimes ventured into the arena of athlete exploitation. Was it appropriate for the international volleyball federation to mandate "bun huggers" as a required uniform for international play?
In general, it makes sense to base the selection of uniform or rules regarding uniform on performance-related rationales rather than other non-exploitive considerations. First, it is important to examine the physiological benefits of the garment such as comfort, drag reduction, and performance enhancement. For example, loose clothing may be worn to reduce restrictions and skin irritation whereas tighter clothing may be worn in sports where reduction in air or water resistance is important. A second consideration stems from concerns with safety. This factor becomes obvious to athletes who compete in sports where bruises and abrasions can be reduced by wearing garments that cover more of the body. The third point deals with the psychological factors associated with the uniform. Both heavier athletes and extremely light athletes may find form fitting uniforms uncomfortable which may, therefore, hinder performance.
Uniform requirements may be considered exploitive when female athletes are required to wear form-fitting uniforms when the same is not expected of male athletes in the same sport. Finally, it is important to examine the cultural differences related to the acceptability of exposing the body in public. By requiring uniforms that expose the body, participation opportunities may be taken from those individuals who cannot wear such garments.
It is important to note, however, that there are some circumstances which necessitate some restrictions in uniform choice. These prohibitions include garments that provide participants with an unfair competitive advantage (e.g., high compression garments in weight lifting), may interfere with the performance of an opponent, may inhibit the officiating of the contest, or may cause injury to athlete or opponents. Finally, it is easy to understand the need for rules that mandate that all members of a team wear the same uniform to distinguish players between opposing teams.
Each of these factors must be taken into consideration when developing rules regarding the uniforms worn by athletes. It is important that restrictions do not discriminate by gender, race, or other inappropriate distinction. In general, to the extent justifiable, uniform choices should give the athlete maximum flexibility in choosing a garment that makes her feel most comfortable and perform at the highest level. Any restrictions of such athlete choice should be grounded in research or evidence that demonstrates the need for such restrictions.
Reprinted with the permission of the Women's Sports Foundation. © 2008 All Rights Reserved.
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