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Column: The last thing Olympians need is to feel naked on the podium
Shannon Casas high res
Shannon Casas

I remember being denied entry into a roller skating rink once. I must have been a teenager at the time, maybe 13 or 14. The problem? I was wearing a spaghetti-strap tank top. The owners of the rink didn’t think that was appropriate.

We left, and I remember feeling a bit astonished and a bit angry. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard my shoulders were indecent, though. Someone at church had said the same. I’m sure I didn’t wear a tank top to Sunday service. More likely I was there to practice hand bells or attend a youth event or choir. I was there all the time, voluntarily. 

How the church or society at large defines decency is certainly a moving line, usually a line up and down a girl’s legs. Your shorts should reach your fingertips, I remember hearing. I don’t know which stores were carrying shorts that long at the time — I didn’t find them.

Where should the line be? That’s a good question and one I’m not going to answer. But it’s become quite a hot topic as the Tokyo Olympics get under way.

Paralympian Olivia Breen said on social media that she was told her running shorts were too short. Meanwhile the Norwegian women’s beach handball team was recently fined for wearing shorts instead of bikini bottoms. It should be noted the men are allowed to wear shorts.

Uniform guidelines certainly have their place, especially at the highest level of athletic competition. The double standard, though, is glaringly obvious here. 

While an Olympic competitor’s body should be in tip-top shape, the competition is about their athletic ability, not their appearance.

The French beach handball team’s manager was quoted in international media saying they’ve lost players due to the uniforms — that they feel uncomfortable, naked and watched. I imagine those athletes uncomfortable in their uniforms would have a version of that dream where you’re walking down your school hallway naked. Only this time they’re standing on an Olympic podium without any clothes.

They’ve got enough to worry about in their quest for greatness at the Olympics, especially this year as the world gathers in the midst of the continuing coronavirus pandemic. Their uniforms should be the least of their worries.

Women and girls should generally be able to worry less about what they’re wearing, though. Their bodies shouldn’t be objectified whether they’ve got on a spaghetti-strap tank top or a baggy T-shirt. The same goes for boys, too, by the way. The little ones at my house seem to think they’re hot stuff, and are constantly taking off their shirts. It’s a little bit amusing at their age, but I also wish they would unlearn whatever led them to this behavior.

What I want them to know, though, is not that they need to cover up so girls can control themselves. I want them to know it’s more important to be good looking on the inside than the outside. 

There can be a lot of pressure on kids today to stand out, to define their brand — all their peers are watching on social media, after all. But their self-worth should not be defined by what they wear. And the intense focus society sometimes places on what’s on the outside can be harmful.

A Christian singer recently came under fire after posting what he says was supposed to be a humorous take on this age-old struggle: “Modest is hottest.” In the lyrics, Matthew West jokes “If I catching you doing dances on the TikTok, in a crop top, so help me God, you’ll be grounded ‘til the world stops.” 

He said on Twitter that the song was “his way of reminding them that their appearance doesn’t define them.” Much of the Twitterverse didn’t seem to think he achieved that goal but rather the opposite.

It may be just another battle in the raging culture wars. Perhaps rather than policing what others are wearing, though, we should take a harder look at those objectifying others and tell them it’s not OK, no matter what the other person is wearing.

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a North Hall resident. 

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