Suit guidelines open debate about sexism, body shaming

NFHS releases memo to crack down on suit violations

As the new swim season begins rules over appropriate and inappropriate swim-wear have been pushed to the forefront of national discussions over body-shaming and sexism.
This issue was spotlighted after a female swimmer from Alaska was disqualified for her suit riding up during a race.

According to an August memo released from the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) these rules were emphasized in response to a growing number of students, both male and female, rolling up their swimsuits “in such a way as to expose the athlete’s buttocks.”

Though the ruling to disqualify the Alaska swimmer was overturned after harsh criticism of the call, the incident still raised questions about the role that body shaming and sexism plays in sports.

While the rules are consistent between both girls and boys swimming, many feel that such regulations are directed more towards girls.

Robert Guy, the girls swimming head coach at new trier, described this rule as yet another restriction aimed towards women.

“Historically the people who are the focus of dress code have been women. Though the IHSA has framed this policy in a way that refers to an issue for both male and female athletes, it feels as if it is designed more explicitly for female students in mind,” explained Guy.

Lidia Orta, a junior on the swim team, highlighted that regardless of the rule’s purpose it created more problems than it has solved.

“Even if the rule was created with good intentions to help create a comfortable environment, enforcement of any kind just seems to go against its purpose in the first place, possibly making the entire situation more uncomfortable for swimmers and spectators,” said Orta.

Junior Jenna Mydlach, emphasized the discomfort that comes not only from the rule, but also from those who would be enforcing it.

“I don’t feel comfortable having people look at my ‘swimsuit’ and decide if I’m displaying too much. nine times of ten it’s an old man refereeing and the fact that an old man has to look at my middle area and judge it is just disgusting,” said Mydlach.

For many individuals, the rule takes already sensitive issues of body-shaming, and makes them exponentially worse.

To Guy, it is this issue in particular that separates this rule from the overall goals of swimming.
“Within an educational institution, it doesn’t emphasize the values that we want to emphasize in terms of tolerance and inclusivity,” said Guy.

In particular, rules attempting to define well-fitted suits, tend to target girls with different body types, telling them that the way standardized suits fit them is incorrect.

“Even without enforcement, girls with certain body shapes can feel targeted by this type of rule. It brings attention to already uncomfortable topics, such as body image, and now sets a rule against certain coverage can be detrimental to girls’ self-esteems and mental health,” said Orta.

Senior Caroline Swanson said such rules can result in negative ramifications, echoing Orta.

“This regulation has caused female swimmers to be even more self-conscious in their skintight uniforms, promoting more body shaming in sports and society,” added Swanson.

According to Guy, New Trier has worked to mitigate this problem by providing multiple variations of the same suit that may better meet each swimmer’s needs.

The school in Alaska that initially implemented this rule has since decided that all team-issued suits will now be automatically assumed as legal.

However, even with multiple suits available swimmers can still find themselves unintentionally ‘breaking’ the rules.

Piper Dooley, a sophomore, explained that even with multiple options, suit styles are still too limited to be able to fairly enforce any type of rule.

“There are a few options that have different amounts of back covered, and while most team members have the ‘average’ body type, not all do. It’s important to recognize that when making rules,” said Dooley.

Mike Leissner, a boys and girls swim coach, added that multiple factors can impact how well a suit fits as well as the swimmer’s comfort level.

“The coverage and what shows is so vastly different depending on your length, your width, shape and maturity. People are just more comfortable in a size that fits or doesn’t fit properly,” said Leissner.

Mydlach explained that beyond potentially targeting swimmers with different body types, the rule also distracts swimmers from the actual competition.

“For every race, to get up on the blocks, and think about whether or not I will get disqualified because of my suit showing my butt too much, it really is a negative thing. The only thing that should be going through my mind is how I’m gonna win that race,” said Mydlach.

Mila Cutler, a junior, pointed out that in addition to distracting swimmers from the competition, it also distracts judges from what they should be focusing on.

“How a suit fits on someone’s body shouldn’t have anything to do with her event, and how she swims should be what referees are focusing on in the water, not what the suit looks like on her body,” said Cutler.