When the German women’s gymnastics team showed up to compete at the European Championships in April wearing long-legged bodysuits, Jamaican gymnast Danusia Francis was surprised.
“Although my immediate reaction was that it was very cool, I then wondered if they had been deducted points for wearing them,” Francis – who made her Olympic debut in Tokyo – wrote in a first-person essay for Newsweek. “When it was revealed that wearing full-body suits is in the rule book and completely allowed, my reaction was, ‘Wow, why didn’t I know about this?’”
The German team wore them again at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, taking a stand against the sexualization of women in gymnastics.
In gymnastics, women typically wear leotards, which feature a bikini-cut right above the hip, exposing their full legs. Men compete in unitards, which are full-length bodysuits that extend to the ankles; they also have the option to wear a singlet and loose shorts in certain events.
There are no rules that specify women must wear leotards, but in a sport like gymnastics? The tradition and expectation of leotards have been woven into the fabric of the sport.
Even though Francis says she prefers to wear leotards, she wishes she had known that she had a choice in the matter.
Additionally, the leotard’s design is also not entirely sensible for women during their monthly cycles.
“I also hate to be on my period during a competition, because there is that fear of your tampon string hanging out of that thin bit of material,” Francis explained. “So, I use my birth control pills during a competition to control that, and make sure I’m not on my period.”
The intersection of uniform practicality and the menstrual cycle is still a somewhat ‘taboo’ topic to speak about publicly, but it is certainly not a new one. Some women have expressed fear of getting their periods during some of the biggest events in sports, from tennis’s Wimbledon to Winter Olympics.
White soccer shorts, petite racing buns, figure-hugging swimsuits — these are all uniforms that do not necessarily cater to menstruation.
And if a woman feels her only option is to alter her birth control consumption in order to avoid getting her period, or avoid a uniform mishap, what does that mean about the overall mental and physical health of women athletes?
“Maybe, given the opportunity to wear a full bodysuit before, I would have just accepted my period and worn something different,” Francis said. “It’s amazing for the German gymnasts to keep showing that there is a choice. They’re showing the world…and young gymnasts that you can choose what you want to wear.”
During the Olympics, you can also catch up on all of the major storylines in women’s sports by watching “On Her Turf @ The Olympics,” a 30-minute show that will stream for free on Peacock. Hosted by Lindsay Czarniak, MJ Acosta-Ruiz, and Lolo Jones, the show kicks off on Saturday, July 24, and will stream every day of the Games (Monday-Saturday at 7pm ET and Sundays at 6pm ET).