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German Women’s Gymnastics Team Competes in Full Body Unitards in Protest

The uniforms make a statement against the “sexualization” of the sport.

Pauline Schaefer-Betz

The German women’s gymnastics team is switching things up in the Tokyo Olympics. The team is competing in full body unitards (instead of the traditional bikini-cut unitards) to make a statement against the “sexualization” of the sport. The German team debuted their unitards at the European Artistic Gymnastics Championships in April, where the German Gymnastics Federation released a statement saying, “The aim is to present themselves aesthetically – without feeling uncomfortable.”

The four gymnasts, Kim Bui, Pauline Schaefer, Sarah Voss, and Elisabeth Seitz, wore fuchsia unitards with lace cutouts on the legs, which extended to their ankles. Gymnast Elisabeth Seitz wrote in an Instagram post that the team wanted to “set an example … to all gymnasts who may feel uncomfortable or even sexualized in normal suits. Because, in our opinion, every gymnast should be able to decide in which type of suit she feels most comfortable — and then do gymnastics.”


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A post shared by Elisabeth Seitz (@seitzeli)

While women have long competed in bikini cut leotards, male gymnasts are allowed to wear singlets and loose-fitting shorts and long stirrup pants for competition. The team came to the decision amongst themselves, with support from their coaches. “We girls had a big influence on this,” gymnast Sarah Voss said. “The coaches were also very much into it. They said they want us to feel the most confident and comfortable in any case. It just makes you feel better and more comfortable.”

The decision comes after 2018 scandal that saw hundreds of women come forward to accuse Dr. Larry Nassar of molesting them as young athletes. The trial included testimony from several Olympic gymnasts, including the entire 2012 Olympic team and four of the five members of the 2016 team. The former USA Gymnastics national team doctor was sentenced to 176 years in prison, and USA Gymnastics came under fire for their role in ignoring decades of complaints and accusations. The trial was an indictment not only of Nassar, but of the coaches, instructors, and administration officials who covered for his abuse. It also shone a light on the abuse and objectification of the girls and women in the sport.


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A post shared by Kim Bui (@_kim.bui_)

Biles said of the German uniforms, “I stand with their decision to wear whatever they please and whatever makes them feel comfortable, … So if anyone out there wants to wear a unitard or leotard, it’s totally up to you.” Gymnasts can lose points for adjusting their uniforms during their routine, which means that those sporting bikini cut leotards are forced to choose between losing points or exposing themselves to potentially millions of fans watching all over the world.

Emphasizing the importance of choice and comfort, Seitz added, “That doesn’t mean we don’t want to wear the normal leotard any more. It is a decision day by day, based on how we feel and what we want. On competition day, we will decide what to wear.”

(via ABC News, image: LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP via Getty Images)

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Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.