May 22, 2024

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Cries of sexism greet Nike's Olympic unveiling

Cries of sexism greet Nike's Olympic unveiling

Ever since the Norwegian women's beach handball team turned the fact that it was required to wear skimpy bikinis to compete into a cause célèbre, a quiet revolution has been brewing throughout women's sports. It's one of those questions received by convention about what female athletes should — or shouldn't — wear to perform at their best.

The sport has touched on women's soccer (why white shorts?), gymnastics (why not a leotard instead of a leotard?), field hockey (why wear a tank top?) and much more, including running.

So maybe it shouldn't have come as a shock to Nike when it offered a sneak peek of Team USA Track and Field during a game. Nike Air event in Paris In celebration of air tech on Thursday (which also included a search for other Olympic athletes, such as the Kenyan track and field team, the French basketball team, and the Korean dance delegation), they were met with some less than enthusiastic reactions.

As you can see, the two uniforms that Nike chose to highlight on the models included a men's compression shirt, mid-thigh compression shorts, and a women's bodysuit, cut significantly higher at the hip. It looked like a sporty version of an 80s workout dress. As displayed, the suit appeared to require some complex intimate care.

Citius MagFocused on spreading the news, she posted a photo of the uniform on Instagram, and many of her followers did not enjoy it.

“Which man designed women's pieces?” One wrote.

“I hope USATF pays for the bikini wax,” another wrote. That's how most of the 1,900-plus comments went.

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On-going comedian Laura Green posted a message Instagram reel As she pretended to be trying to get the look (“We feel pretty, um, breezy,” she said) and examined the rest of the athlete's kit, which turned out to contain hairspray, lip gloss, and a “hysterectomy kit, so women wouldn't have to worry about menstruation.”

When asked, Nike did not directly address the hype, but according to John Hook, chief innovation officer, the women's bodysuit and men's shorts and jersey are just two of the options Nike will offer Olympic runners. “There are approximately 50 unique pieces for men and women, as well as dozens of competition styles tuned to suit specific events,” Mr. Hook said.

Women will be able to choose compression pants, crop tops or tanks and bodysuits with shorts instead of bikini bottoms. The full list of looks was not available in Paris, but more will be revealed next week at the US Olympic Committee media summit in New York. The Paris reveal was supposed to be a teaser.

Mr. Houck also noted that Nike consults with a large number of athletes at every stage of uniform design. Her track and field roster includes Shakari Richardson, who happened to be wearing compression shorts during her presentation in Paris, and Something Moe. And sure, there are runners who love the high brief. (British Olympic runner Dina Asher-Smith, another Nike athlete, told the New York Times last summer that while she chooses to run in briefs, she also leans toward an athleisure style, rather than a two-piece.)

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However, what Nike missed is that by choosing these two looks as a preview of Team USA, rather than, say, the matching shorts and jerseys that would also be available, it reinforced long-standing inequalities in the sport — one that puts the female athlete's body on display. In a way that is not visible to the athlete.

“Why do we present this sexual uniform as a standard of excellence?” said Lauren Fleischman, a U.S. national champion long-distance runner and author of “Good for a Girl.” “Partly because we think that's what brings us the most financial gain from sponsors or opportunities, most of which are handed out by powerful men or people who look at it through a masculine gaze. But women are breaking records in terms of ratings in sports where they don't have to You basically have to wear a swimsuit to perform.

The problem these images create is twofold. When Nike chose to unveil the high-cut suit as its first Olympic apparel, whether intentionally or not, the implication to anyone watching was that “this is what excellence looks like,” Ms. Fleischman said.

This perception trickles down to young athletes and becomes the model that girls believe they must adopt, often at a stage of development when their relationships with their bodies are particularly fraught.

More broadly, given the current political debate about segregation over women's bodies, this reinforces the idea that they are public property.

Still, Ms. Fleishman said, “I'm glad Nike positioned this image as the crown jewel of the Olympic team design,” because it may serve as a catalyst for another long-overdue conversation.

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“If you showed this uniform to someone from the WNBA or women's soccer, they would laugh in your face,” she said. “We don't have to normalize track and field anymore. The time is up for that.”