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German gymnasts wore unitards to protest the ‘sexualization’ of their sport

These women used the Games to make a statement — and make Olympic history

German gymnasts stand with their unitard costumes at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Sunday, July 25, 2021, in Tokyo.
German gymnasts stand with their unitard costumes and wait to perform during the women’s artistic gymnastic qualifications at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Sunday, July 25, 2021, in Tokyo.
Ashley Landis, Associated Press

Every gymnast loves the sport, but the standard competition outfit? Maybe not so much.

Over the weekend at the Tokyo Olympics, German gymnasts made a statement against the “sexualization” of their sport by wearing conservative, full-body unitards, reported CNN. In an Olympic first, the women wore the outfits for their qualification competition.

What’s a unitard? How is it different than a leotard?

Female gymnasts typically compete in leotards that have a high cut above the hip. The bikini-cut outfits have long been the standard outfit for girls and women in all levels of gymnastics, reported the AP.

  • Male gymnasts compete in loose-fitting shorts or full-length pants depending on the event, per The Washington Post.

Unitards, by contrast, are more modest and cover the gymnast’s legs down to her ankles, reported CNN. Unitards — and leotards with matching leggings — are allowed in competition. Previously, the conservative outfits have been worn primarily for cultural or religious reasons.

Why are the German gymnasts wearing unitards?

The German gymnasts did not wear unitards for cultural or religious reasons. Instead, the women wore the outfits to make a statement, reported CNN.

  • “We wanted to show that every woman, everybody, should decide what to wear,” Germany’s Elisabeth Seitz said Friday per The Washington Post.
  • “We girls had a big influence on this,” said Germany’s Sarah Voss on Friday per The Washington Post. “The coaches were also very much into it. They said they want us to feel the most confident and comfortable in any case.
  • “It just makes you feel better and more comfortable,” Voss said.

Germany’s gymnasts first wore unitards in April at the European Championships. Afterward, the German Gymnastics Federation said the outfits were a statement against the “sexualization in gymnastics,” per CNN.

  • “The aim is to present themselves aesthetically — without feeling uncomfortable,” the Federation said per CNN.

“We decided this is the most comfortable leotard for today,” Seitz said on Thursday, according to CNN.

  • “That doesn’t mean we don’t want to wear the normal leotard anymore. It is a decision day by day, based on how we feel and what we want,” she said.
  • “On competition day, we will decide what to wear,” Seitz said.

Could Team USA gymnasts wear unitards?

Multiple Team USA gymnasts have voiced their support for unitards but still prefer wearing the typical leotards, reported The Washington Post.

In June, Simone Biles, the 24-year-old legend, said she preferred leotards because the unitard would appear to “shorten” her 4-foot, 8-inch build, per The Washington Post.

  • “But I stand with their decision to wear whatever they please and whatever makes them feel comfortable,” she said per The Washington Post.
  • “So if anyone out there wants to wear a unitard or leotard, it’s totally up to you,” Biles said.

“I think those are really cool,” said Sunisa Lee, another Team USA gymnast, last month per The Washington Post.

  • “I like it a lot because people should be able to wear what they feel comfortable in, and it shouldn’t be a leotard if you don’t want to wear it.”