Immodesty in athletic dress is the result of an unrestricted capitalist economy.

Capitalism that is unhitched from Christian morality turns the human body into a commodity to be marketed, bought and sold.  This is one reason why our culture has rapidly pornified.  This is also why your high school daughter is running at track practice in nothing but a pair of underwear-sized compression shorts and a sports bra and no one bats an eye.

When you combine the unrestricted capitalistic commodification of the human body with women’s natural desire to be looked at by men (which is not a sinful desire when properly restricted), we can see why women’s dress in athletics has devolved from this:

Althea Gibson

Althea Gibson, the first African American female tennis champion, at the 1956 French Open, which she won.

to this:

Venus Williams French open dress

Venus Williams at her opening match at the 2014 French Open.

The immediate cry is that it is impossible to “move freely” in more substantial attire.  This is, of course, complete crap.

Exhibit A – If men can play volleyball in these shorts…

Men's VB team

…why can’t women?

US-womens-volleyball-team

The Women’s U.S. Olympic Volleyball team demonstrates why there are so many internet memes about volleyball shorts.

Of course, if you really want to destroy the They just dress like that because it’s easier to move! argument, you have to use the women’s beach volleyball team outfits versus the men’s:

womens beach vb

Perhaps they attribute their gold medal to the enhanced ease of moving their buttocks in those bikini bottoms.

 

Men's beach volleyball

Oddly, the men don’t seem to be having any trouble moving.

Why do female athletes dress like this?  They do so because they’ve been pushed to over time by the television marketing executives who broadcast the sporting events – because let’s be honest, women’s sports are kind of boring compared to men’s sports if you’re just looking at pure athleticism, hence the invention of volleyball shorts to get men interested in watching women’s sports.

I don’t think the marketing execs literally sat down one day and decreed women athletes were henceforth to dress like sluts. Saying It was the TV executives who did it! is just a shorthand way of saying that it was a progression: one female athlete dressed a little more risque, more men watched any future events she participated in, thus more advertising dollars rolled in, so the television stations covered more of that sport to cater to the advertisers, which led to more money for the athletes, whose advertising sponsors then required them to wear skimpier uniforms in order to gain more viewers…this is what I mean when I say women were pushed into dressing immodestly by marketing executives.

And though they probably didn’t come up with the idea of such skimpy attire all on their own, it likely isn’t that hard to “push” a lot of women into it, as most women have a natural desire to be looked at by men.  To understand how this natural desire is harnessed by marketing executives, consider that one of the first things the U.S. Women’s Volleyball team did when they got back from the Olympics was pose nude as a group for ESPN’s “The Body Issue” (sorry, I don’t want to post the nude image here even though technically everything “naughty” is covered).

There is no word from ESPN on when we can expect a similar photo from the Men’s Volleyball team.

It’s not that male athletes are more moral than women when it comes to how they dress.  It’s just that photos of the Detroit Lions draped nude over one another and sporting nothing but a few strategically placed footballs isn’t going to sell a whole lot of beer.

In fact, I googled “ESPN the Body Issue men” (for research purposes only, I assure you), and I found NO group nude shots of men. The men get the Women’s Volleyball team and the Women’s Water Polo team, and what do the gals get? That’s right, Prince Fielder.  Gee, thanks ESPN (I jest of course – I don’t actually want to see nude groups of male athletes).

Why, this definitely wasn’t about marketing women’s sports to men as softcore porn at all!  Ha.

But here is the much more serious fall out: Olympians and professional athletes set the standards for what younger athletes wear, and it becomes first acceptable and then required for them to dress immodestly.  If a girl wants to play on her high school volleyball team, she will be required to wear those immodest shorts because they are part of the uniform.

This gives a parent two choices: allow her to play in the immodest shorts or pull her off the team.  And since the attire for most girls’ sports is getting skimpier and skimpier, there aren’t a lot of other sport options that are much better at this point (girls’ basketball is still pretty modest).

My own rationalization has been this: I tried and tried when they were younger to bring this issue up to coaches and fellow parents only to get strange looks from them, so I gave up and gave in.  My husband and I were discussing this recently, and he talked about averting his eyes, depending on where he’s sitting at volleyball tournaments, just before the serve when all those fifteen-year-old girls crouch forward in their volleyball shorts.

I got my own taste of that recently when I went to pick up my high school daughter from track practice on an unusually warm day; not only were groups of girls running in compression shorts and sports bras (my daughter kept her shirt on, thankfully), but the young men were shirtless in running shorts. I decided it was appropriate for me to look away from the half-naked young men running past me back up to the school.

To mention this to others is to get a defensive reaction – What’s the matter with you, are you such a pervert that you find sixteen-year-old boys in nothing but running shorts too sexual to look at without feeling that it’s kind of wrong to look?  Anyone who questions the modesty of under-aged athletes in such skimpy attire is immediately shamed into silence by insinuations about their character.

But I do think it’s wrong.  I don’t think we should allow our children to be marketed this way and I don’t think we should train our daughters to attention whore for the male gaze like this.  The problem is that we are being trained to slowly accept more and more immodest athletic attire; we are first anesthetized to it by seeing it on television on professional athletes and then eventually it trickles its way down to high school and junior high athletes, where first it’s a few kids wearing it and eventually it just becomes part of the standard uniform. At what point do we as Christian parents draw a line in the sand and say, “No farther”? It’s not an easy and straightforward decision, but we should at least be aware of the underlying dynamics and understand that this is the end result of capitalism unfettered from morality.

(For an interesting discussion – some of which I agree with and some of which I don’t – on modesty and dress, start with Cane Caldo’s recent post Of Pants and Passions and continue through his series of posts on the issue, including a discussion about athletic wear).

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22 thoughts on “Immodesty in athletic dress is the result of an unrestricted capitalist economy.

  1. From my standpoint, as a boy bear, I would be blaming the girls for this race to the bottom. In our present culture, women don’t see beauty in the male form but, men certainly do in women. There is something very culturally sick with all this and I think it may be the result of inflated sexual market value for women and deflated value for men. When most of the women are only interested in ten to fifteen percent of the men, competition for their attention will get cutthroat.
    That nobody is saying anything is telling too. It is like there is a a cultural taboo on the subject.

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  2. As an athelete specifically a long distance runner, this speaks volumes to me. I’m captain of the trail running club at my school, but since it is all females nobody cares about the male gaze. Regardless, you have a point. Modesty in the sports needs to be brought back.

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      • And therefore got themselves smacked in the Maccabean revolts.

        Let’s be serious here; apart from architecture and Athenian literature and philosophy, the legacy of Greece (especially that of the aftermath of Alexander) is constant warfare.

        Plus, the testimony of the gymnasia is that social nudity was correlated really tightly with sexual license and degradation, as the Maccabees would have told you. It is as if something happens when a person “uncovers nakedness”. Why else would starlets disrobe when they’re not getting good parts, and why would singers do the same when their records are not selling? Did Taylor Swift just insure her voice, or her legs? Do.the.math.

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      • @Bike Bubba
        The Europeans sauna is a very long and honourable tradition. I believe the first thing Finnish peacekeepers do when they make camp is set up a sauna.

        Personally, I don’t want to see friends and colleagues naked – or vice versa – so I don’t go to saunas, but everybody else at the gym piles into it after class/workout.

        I did go to a famous sauna once and what I learned quickly is that the human body is more variant than I’d dreamed of. I also learned it’s possible to be naked with other people in close proximity, and for people to behave perfectly decently and politely.

        The other thing about seeing people of both sexes naked is it has a very positive effect on body image. When you see enough naked bodies, they’re not sexual at all. They’re just human variation. Seeing a wide range of ‘normality’ up close and personal has made me personally much less susceptible to media messages that there’s only one, narrow way to have an acceptable body.

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      • Bodycrimes, I’m going to have to disagree with you about public nudity being freeing or nonsexual. A good portion of nudist clubs are for “swingers”, for example, and even in the “family” clubs, wikipedia and researchers (SFW mostly) indicate that a litany of rules is necessary to prevent them from becoming a sexual free for all. Here’s a copy of some of the research done.

        http://drglennsmith.co.uk/RES-000-22-0569-5k.pdf

        Really, the rules used to prevent things from becoming a free for all this way resemble little so much as the Bob Jones University student handbook with the passages on modesty erased, if reports like this are indicative.

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      • It could be cultural. Nudity has a completely different meaning in the Anglophone countries.

        But there is a whole European culture of getting your gear off in front of other people in steamy rooms and people do it for health reasons. In the former East Germany, going nude in the spa (the ‘FreiKorperKultur’) was allowed as a form of political bait and switch – there was no real political freedom, so people were fobbed off with this substitute freedom of the body.

        The modern Mittel Europa/Scandinavian belief that nudity is no big deal extends beyond the spa – having spent more time than I cared to in and out of German hospitals, I eventually adjusted to the fact that there were no curtains round the bed even during rather intimate procedures and no gowns when you went to x-ray. They literally don’t care about this stuff.

        People being nude together goes back a long way. If you visit some of the ancient Roman towns, you’ll see rows of sit-down toilets. People (honestly) used to go to the toilet in front of each other. Horrifying but true.

        To be honest, I can’t begin to tell you how unsexy lots of people of all ages with their gear off is. There ain’t nothing erotic about being nude in the same room as people old enough to be your grandpa.

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  3. Capitalism? Not quite sure about that, as what we have is a huge increase in the power and authority of government occurring with a decrease in attire worn. The correlation is exactly wrong.

    What I think is actually going on is that we have a political imperative that women must be seen in all areas of life, including athletic endeavors. Since the women’s game isn’t as interesting as the men’s, you’ve got to do something to maintain the charade that the women’s game sort of appears relevant. Enter spandex.

    And since spandex really isn’t that interesting a look for most top female athletes–the first thing to go with training are the curves after all–most people don’t fall for it. Now capitalism would have realized this and admitted that apart from a few things in the Olympics, women’s athletics simply aren’t a money making endeavor. But since it’s politics driving things, we get more of it.

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  4. Sunshine,
    In your post, you mentioned “male gaze”. In one of her videos, Christina Hoff Summers mentioned that there are very important tenets that go with it that are part and parcel with feminism. I don’t know the first thing about all this. When I look at a woman, it’s percieving beauty. Pretty innocent stuff. It may all be feminist hogwash but, it may help to know what they’re thinking. Could this be a post?

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  5. I think this may vary by geographic region.

    My daughter is on a high school soccer team that’s won the state championship game for several years. All athletes must follow a certain code of conduct b/c they represent their school.

    Most girls wear spandex shorts under their soccer shorts for modesty whether they’re practicing or playing an actual match. My daughter is short so the hem of her shorts is only a few inches above the top of her socks and shin guards. The girls all wear tee-shirts to practice and team jerseys to games. Nothing immodest at all.

    All of the team uniforms at her school are modest, from track and field to softball and field hockey.

    On the other hand, I have a niece who plays softball just outside of NYC. I was surprised during a visit last summer to see that the team uniforms consist of skin-tight tank tops over skin tight leggings. Nothing is left to the imagination.

    As far as the professional athletes are concerned I agree that it’s probably a ploy to entice more people to watch female athletes and sports teams. Other than gymnasts and tennis stars, there doesn’t seem to be much of a commercial market for it.

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  6. You have to pull pretty much every daughter out of sports, unfortunately, unless you can find a team in which her modesty will be respected. My daughter wears skirlots. She is blunt in saying, “No, I will not dress like that,” and surprisingly enough, people will respect that even if they disagree with it. You train a little girl from the very beginning to resist the tide, and resist she will, even in the face of vehement persecution. Those who persecute will eventually be the ones later thinking about how “cool” she is. Why? Because the really nice boys are going to want her, not them. Because she developed her talents instead of vapidly showing off her body. Because she’s going to have staying power.

    You have to be willing to die for the sake of chastity — see here:
    http://mariagoretti.org/mariabio.htm

    And in these days, I am afraid this may happen more frequently, only I think the other girls are going to be the ones tearing the decent girls apart.

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  7. Pingback: Country mouse is not a city mouse. | The Sunshine Thiry Blog

  8. I lived in Europe for over a decade and regularly went to a large, well-known spa in Bad Homburg outside of Frankfurt, as well as others when we traveled. Half of it was nude, but never did I feel exploited or disrespected there (or anywhere else) as a 20s female without my husband. I’m certain that there are exploitive places and situations, but my experience was pleasant enjoying the water and lying in the sun.

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