Sexualization of Athletic Uniforms

More than fabric: navigating the complexities of athletic attire

Saul Morales (He/Him) // Contributor
Noureen Elsayed (She/Her) // Illustrator

Should the uniforms in sports change over time? What impacts does the sexualization of athletic uniforms have? If the rules of the sport are not changing, why is the uniform changing? One reason for changing the uniforms could be the improvement in technology that allows for the creation of uniforms that improve the athlete’s performance in a way that wasn’t possible before. 

It makes sense to think that the changes in uniforms are driven by improvements in technology that allow for the creation of better sportswear. The creation of lighter and more resistant fabric is one of the reasons, but it’s not the main reason for changes in uniforms in the last 100 years.

Professional sports serve many purposes; promoting national pride, inspiring healthy lifestyles, creating economic impacts and media or advertising opportunities. One of the main purposes, though, is entertainment. It is important to remember that the business model that allows for professional sports teams to pay their athletes relies on the sale of merchandise and tickets to the games.

Sports that gather more public attention produce more revenue. Professional soccer players make more money than professional rugby players because more money is generated in soccer matches than in rugby matches, not because they are objectively better athletes or because they play a more difficult sport. 

In an attempt to increase the revenue generated, the sports industry has resorted to various tactics to engage fans and build the presence of their brand. One of the most controversial tactics has been changing the design of the uniforms to prioritize aesthetics and sex appeal over functionality and performance. A few clear examples include cheerleading and volleyball uniforms.

Cheerleading uniforms face criticism because they are designed in a way that emphasizes a look considered by some as overly revealing. According to Epic Sports, skirts have been getting shorter over time, tops have been getting smaller and the overall fit is tighter.

Another uniform that faces a lot of criticism is the bikini-style attire seen in women’s beach volleyball. While the design is intended to accommodate the sport’s sandy environment, some argue that the emphasis on the revealing uniform may contribute to the sexualization of female athletes.

We can also see examples of more revealing uniforms on male athletes like the male swimmers who have been allowed to compete in the Olympics bare-chested since 1936 instead of having to wear full body suits.

The sexualization of athletic uniforms may not be universally viewed negatively by athletes themselves. Some athletes may feel empowered and confident wearing uniforms that they believe expresses their identity without negatively affecting their performance.The design of the uniform may be influenced by marketability and the desire to attract sponsorships through the use of eye-catching uniforms.

Consequently, the sexualization of athletic uniforms can contribute to the objectification of athletes. This may detract from their achievements, skills and athleticism. Tight or revealing uniforms may restrict movement or cause discomfort, affecting the athlete’s ability to compete at their best. The emphasis on sexualized uniforms can have a negative impact on body image and self-esteem, and can reinforce harmful beauty standards and expectations.

While some argue that a certain level of aesthetics is important for marketability and athlete confidence, it is important to balance this with considerations for functionality and the potential impact on the athlete’s psychology, well-being and performance. Finding the right balance will contribute to a positive and empowering sports environment for all athletes.


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