Baring It All

Femininity and sex appeal
in women's athletics.

The Naked Truth

In regards to athletics, society has presented the controversial question, ‘why are male and female uniforms so different?’ Sporting attire has changed dramatically over the years in numerous sports. Uniforms are meant to be comfortable and physically accommodating for the particular sport. If this is the case, then why are so many female athletes wearing such skimpy and often provocative attire while playing?

Unfortunately, sex sells, and athletes and sponsors know this a little too well. It is common for female athletes to promote themselves in their sport through sex appeal. Tennis, track, and volleyball players, golfers, and even a racecar driver have used their looks to attract fans and attention by wearing inappropriate clothing, posing for magazines, or being in commercials that show them in an attractive setting or action. Sexploitation has made a huge impact on society. People of all ages see that these female athletes are using forms of marketing, media, etc to gain exposure as an athlete by using their sex appeal and their physiques. This creates a problem for society because young people especially look up to these athletes and may get the wrong idea of what it means to be an athlete.

The media primarily critiques female athletes in terms of body type and looks, instead of their performance as an athlete. Some male and female sports do generally wear the same clothing. For instance, in track, both men and women wear body-fitting uniforms made out of lightweight material. For track, the lack of material helps them to perform better because it allows the athletes to be aerodynamic and reduces friction. However, one may notice that even though some men and women wear skimpy shorts, females wear very short, bikini-like shirts, where the men wear a tight-fitted tank top. If the women are as unclothed as they can be, why do the men even wear shirts, wouldn’t that make them faster anyways? One would think that the male athletes in track would do this in order to promote themselves through sex appeal. Many other sports share this issue.

Sporting attire for beach volleyball varies greatly between male and female. Male beach volleyball players wear beach shorts and sometimes singlets, where “women must compete in bra-style tops and bikini bottoms that must not exceed six centimeters in width at the hip”. Keep in mind the intention of athletic uniforms, which is attire to be worn while playing a sport that helps the athlete move comfortably. “Women’s beach volleyball, on the other hand, has introduced uniforms intentionally to focus attention on the athletes’ bodies rather than for any technological, practical or performance-enhancing reasons” (Australian Sports Commission).

women's VS men'sbeach volleyball uniforms


Sexploitation through uniforms and the media can put athletes in a tough situation. For some athletes like Anna Kournikova, her sex appeal works for her. Even though she has never won a tennis tournament, she is one of the most well-known tennis players because of her revealing uniforms and the sex appeal she has and portrays to the media. However, the famous Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain were criticized when they flung off their shirt to reveal a sports bra when their team won. It doesn’t make sense that they received flak for that because they were wearing hardly any clothing, and aren’t that what people and the media would like to see? Many controversial issues have occurred because of sporting attire and sexploitation. “Research tells us girls start to drop out of sport at an alarming rate when they are in the 12 to 14 year age group. It shows also that the main reason for young girls abandoning sporting activities is to do with their poor self-image at a delicate stage of their transition into adulthood. Restrictive clothing such as short revealing skirts or heavy, unwieldy school uniforms have been cited as reasons for girls’ unwillingness to take to the sports fields in lunch breaks.” (Australian Sports Commission) Sports needs to keep in mind the different body types, and how drastic the uniforms are from everyday attire when making guidelines for uniforms.

If You Got It...Flaunt It

Many people will agree that sex appeal is not enough to build a strong sports career, nevertheless those same people will agree that it is a good tactic to market a sport. Over the last few decades the sports market has increased in competition and as a result the strategies to use sex appeal have also increased. Executives use sex appeal for several reasons. Foremost is to promote players sexuality that is an important part of gaining publicity and financial support. Secondly, increasing status of the sport and the players, as well as advertising products that range from personal hygiene to socks.


The President of Burns Sports and Celebrities Inc (, addressed this issue in the following manner “ If you look at advertising, in general it’s about appearance and beauty” in the same matter FIFA president Sepp Blatter recently suggested that women soccer players should wear “more feminine uniforms” such as “tighter shorts” to raise fan interest and attract new sponsors” (Social Soccer). Although this remark could be interpreted as sexist and may aggravate equal rights activists, Blatters is not entirely wrong, and to some extent this same remark may help women athletes get rid of double standards and stereotypes.

Women, after all enjoy displaying strong bodies, being as strong as men, and now have earned the spotlight in the media similar to men. In the end, women who worked hard to create their bodies playing a sport should have the right to show off right? Can you imagine an architect put to shame for showing of a beautiful building? So why does selling sex appeal infuriate others?

The typical argument is that women should excel for their ability not their looks, however, well known athletes are often persons possessing the natural or acquired traits, such as strength, agility, and endurance, that are necessary for physical excellence in sports, especially those performing in elite competition. I say more power to them if they can be outstanding athletes and still look beautiful!

What is so wrong and appalling about an image of a beautiful, strong woman showing her body? Could it be that people feel threatened by the prospect of women becoming equally recognized in sports as men? Honestly if men looked good wearing skimpy clothes I’m sure they would be wearing them as well. Furthermore if men really wanted to see sexy almost naked women they might have better luck watching an R-rated movie or even buying magazines to get their thrills. No one denies that advertising sexuality over ability is wrong, but once again most women who play sports and get national coverage have extraordinary ability.