Booty shorts and body image: sexualization in high school sports

My Thursday column at Healthy is the New Skinny looks at the problem of creeping sexualization in high school girls’ sports:

Take a look through an old high school yearbook from the 1970s. You’ll see the volleyball players with some fairly short shorts – and the guys on the basketball team with shorts that may well be even shorter. The tops are mostly loose fitting; the outfits are comfortable and practical.

But take a look at what high school volleyball players are wearing today – and at what the boys on the basketball team have on! Over the past two decades, boys’ shorts have gotten dramatically longer and their uniforms much more concealing, all without any sacrifice of athletic performance. But even as more and more opportunities are emerging for girls to play sports, the uniforms that they’re required to wear (particularly in sports like track and volleyball) have become tighter and more revealing.

The issue isn’t improved performance. In high school volleyball, it’s hard to argue that French-cut briefs lead to a dramatic step up in anything other than attendance at games. (Many women I interviewed for this piece report that the number of people showing up for volleyball matches or track events rise when schools begin to require skimpier uniforms). The issue is how these uniforms and the expectations that come with them affect young women’s self-esteem.

Read the whole thing.

5 thoughts on “Booty shorts and body image: sexualization in high school sports

  1. Pingback: Something gay to talk about… | Soulfully Gay, Part II

  2. This is so true, Hugo! But I remember the skimpy briefs coming in for high school girls in the nineties. I graduated in ’96 and it was my senior year that they made the switch. My friend dropped off the team at LCHS rather than wear them.

    My cousin plays volleyball in Washington state, and she told me that a year or two ago, her school had this creeper showing up to their games with a camera, taking pictures that were focused on girls’ butts and thighs. He posted them on the internet. They couldn’t charge him with a crime but they got him thrown off campus. The girls were so humiliated; it was like involuntary sexting.

    It was the tight uniforms (booty shorts) that he loved taking pictures of.

  3. Hugo,

    I’m glad you wrote this article. The pro-sex part of me had a little bit of a knee jerk reaction. And I was all like maybe it could be empowering to be sexy and play sports, because part of sports can be about sexuality. But after reading the whole piece and thinking about high school students and the lack of choice involved in the uniforms I quickly became discussed with schools that insists on sexy uniforms. If you feel disempowered in your uniform what’s the point? Sports should be about feeling empowered.

    On the flip side of this argument I want to point out that as an armature athlete who is currently gaining muscle I find it increasingly difficult to find sexy and flattering clothes that fit my body. It’s mostly because my shoulders and thighs are “too big”. This is also troubling.

  4. In order to tackle this problem, we have to find a good way to rebut the business point the sexualization proponents are going to make.

    If showing more female skin has increased the audiences for high school sports, then it has increased profits and word-of-mouth for them. One of the rare recession-proof industries has been the “breastaurant” chain, where basically only “hot” women interested in wearing skimpy clothes on the job need apply as waitstaff. The message is clear: you must be sexy to be profitable.

    This very powerful business incentive means businesspeople will keep on sexualizing until we confront it directly. It’s nothing personal to them; scantily clad women just rake in the profits, they will tell you. Our task is to break this link… to broaden the definition of beautiful (and therefore profitable). To break the linkage of the meaning of “customer service” with being ever-sexually available and attentive (in other words, like a gender-biased exemplar).

    It’s one thing when it’s images in the media; it’s quite another when making a living itself becomes more and more dependent on us either having the right genes, or a few extra thousand dollars cash lying around at any given time for appearance upkeep and maintenance– which inevitably will favor the economically privileged and the conformist.

    This has always been an inherent danger in an economy as dominated by sales and customer service as ours. The conventionally attractive person comforts us, and makes us want to open our wallets in a visceral way; and it will remain like this and get worse unless we are willing to go toe-to-toe with our own gut instincts as well as those of an increasing number of employers.

    I don’t want to live in a world where I have to look like a centerfold to be a trial lawyer, a doctor, or any job facing the public.

  5. Pingback: Sexy people bring in more Benjamins… even in high school sports. « The Montrose Tractatus

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