All gymnasts wear leotards. Right? It’s just a fact, like how Simone Biles is GOOD and Stick It is the most iconic gymnastics film of our time. (Go on, argue me about this, I win.) Gymnasts wear leotards for safety reasons because loose clothing can get stuck on the equipment and to ensure judges can see any movement they perform in a routine. Sparkling and colorful leotards deliver fashion statements that can even go beyond the gym, like UCLA’s stunning Black Lives Matter leotards.
So when three German gymnasts showed up at the European Championships in gymnastics in 2021 wearing a full-body unit – covering their legs all the way to their ankles and their arms down to their forearms – it caught the fans’ attention. The black-and-red unitards worn by Sarah Voss, Elisabeth Seitz and Kim Bui all had the glitter-and-spandex glory we’ve come to expect from gymnastic leotards, just longer.
Seitz later took to Instagram to explain the powerful reason they chose unitards over the traditional leotards. “We … were a good example and had a new type of suit,” Seitz wrote on Instagram (translated from German), saying that the Unitarians were a symbolic gesture in support of gymnasts, “who might feel uncomfortable or even sexualized in normal suits. Because in our opinion, every gymnast should be able to decide in what type of suit she feels most comfortable. “
This conversation has come in the field of gymnastics before, specifically around leotards that can potentially sexualize gymnasts. In 2018, after former American gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar was convicted of sexual abuse, Aly Raisman was asked if gymnasts should continue to wear jerseys, given how much they expose athletes’ bodies. Her view on Twitter: leotard is not the problem, and to say it borders on victim-shame. That said, Raisman said she thought leotards “are incredibly revealing and in bad taste. In fact, I think uniforms in many sports and even children’s clothing are incredibly sexualized.” But it’s not the athlete’s fault, she remarked.
I was recently asked if gymnasts should continue to wear clothes. Jersey is not the problem. The problem is the many pedophiles out there & the adults who activate them. By saying that clothing is part of the problem, you are the victim’s shame / suggesting that survivors should feel it’s their fault.
– Alexandra Raisman (@Aly_Raisman) March 25, 2018
It is important to note that the German gymnasts were not ashamed; they wore the longer units because they preferred them, hoping to inspire other athletes to wear what made them feel comfortable too. Bottom line: gymnasts need to compete in the uniforms they want, whether it’s for comfort, to express themselves or simply to prefer a particular look. For what it’s worth, unitards are allowed under US Gymnastics rules, so can we expect more from these long-sleeved ankle-length unis in the future? We’ll have to wait and see, but we know one thing: when you’re well, you’re doing even better, so we’re all for gymnasts who have what they want.