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Stop body policing female athletes

I cannot remember a time when women’s bodies have not been pushed in the limelight. Actresses, models, politicians–––it seems no female in the public sphere is exempt from scrutiny over her body. Never mind it if the woman put on display does work, in which the size of her body has no effect on her performance.

Even athletes are put in the same box, except now, female athletes are not just criticized for the size of their bodies, but they are poked and prodded by the media because of their choice in outfits.

Just a few weeks ago, tennis star Serena Williams was told her attire at the U.S. French Open was unacceptable. What was she wearing? A fitted suit designed to protect her against blood clots.

“I believe we have gone too far,” French Open President Bernard Giudicelli said in an interview. “Serena’s outfit this year, for example, would no longer be accepted. You have to respect the game and the place.”

Williams responded to Giudicelli by winning her following match in a custom-designed tutu by Louis Vuitton designer, Virgil Abloh and Nike, as if to remind Giudicelli and the rest of her critics her choice in outfit has no effect on her talent.

Williams’ supporters took to Twitter to rally behind her, including American former World Number One professional tennis player, Billie Jean King.

King tweeted: “The policing of women’s bodies must end. The ‘respect’ that’s needed is for the exceptional talent @serenawilliams brings to the game. Criticizing what she wears to work is where the true disrespect lies.”

Williams is not the only recent case of “body policing.” Shortly following Williams’ incident, the U.S. Open came under fire after player Alize Cornet was penalized for briefly removing her top to change it after realizing it was inside out.

Cornet returned from a 10-minute break in the 100-degree heat during a match with a fresh top. After realizing it was inside out, Cornet turned away from the court cameras, briefly removed her top leaving a sports bra underneath, and put the top back on in seconds.

The chair umpire immediately hit her with a code violation.

Cornet’s actions violated the Women’s Tennis Association rulebook. According to the rulebook, female players are only permitted to remove or change their clothing while they are off the court at the closest, most private location.

There is no such rule for male players.

To the outside eye, it may appear both Williams and Cornet simply broke rules, one unspoken and the other clearly recorded. However, the issue is much deeper than just breaking a few rules.

Not only do these rules clearly not apply to male counterparts, but they are outdated and sexist. I agree there are certain attire requirements and guidelines for sports, but I also believe neither of these athletes should be scrutinized for progressive ideals.

I think it is long past time for critics to take a step back and allow female athletes to wear what is most functional for them to compete in. No one is outraged when a male athlete takes off his shirt briefly, so why is it different for a woman when she is leaving a sports bra underneath? Why should a female athlete be criticized for wearing an outfit to help her with an ongoing health issue?

It is no secret the “policing” of female athletes’ bodies is an undeniable occurrence in the media, but the “policing” of their outfits? How about instead of paying attention to what they wear, let us give them a little more respect and pay attention to what got them to the public sphere in the first place: their talent.

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