They’re called dress codes but that’s never really what it’s about. Often, or even most always, they give authorities license to police the bodies of girls and women. This story was sent to me by a few readers, Alaska High School Swimming & Diving’s Inexcusable Swimsuit Scandal.
The short version is that a swimmer was disqualified for wearing a suit sized to fit snug for racing by the manufacturer and issued to her in accordance with uniform regulations by her team. It is the same suit being worn by each participant yet no other athletes in the program were disqualified.
A defense of the decision says it’s about the way the suit was being worn. I wondered what that meant. Backwards? Upside down?
An explanation that makes sense to me says it’s not about the suit or the way it was being worn. What’s at issue is the swimmer’s body.
From the article above, “One young lady expressed at a meet last season that she felt she needed to go on a restrictive diet and put in more time at the gym so her backside would be smaller and therefore more appropriate by the standards of what is being called the modesty rule as defined by this small but vocal group of people. If she starves herself she cannot swim fast; if she does it you can bet that some of her teammates will try to do the same; if this becomes the norm you can bet that girl’s swimming in Alaska will suffer.”
Have you ever worn a swimsuit fit for racing? I have. They aren’t modest. I didn’t want to go out on the pool deck wearing one and I’m pretty comfortable naked. But modesty isn’t the goal. They’re designed for speed.
And the fact is the norms of modesty for girls are really about having a normative body, one that fits into a racing swimsuit, without unruly bits poking out. This is certainly true for school dress codes. They specify things like the appropriate width of a shoulder strap but in fact what matters is whether you’re thin, white, and have appropriately sized breasts.
Wearing body conscious clothing for sports is difficult enough for women and girls. This kind of decision can’t help.