It turns out that there’s no reason for female gymnasts to wear teeny-tiny leotards that spotlight their sexual attributes.
Just in case you’re confused on this point, let’s review some facts: No, gymnasts do not need to be nearly nude so that judges can somehow “see” their movements clearly. No, the endemic leotard wedgie is not somehow an inevitable part of gymnastics attire.
The good people of Germany have figured this out. During last month’s European Gymnastics Championships, a few German competitors competed in unitards. Don’t know what a unitard is? It’s like a leotard with arms and legs—kinda like a wetsuit, but thin. As Slate recently reported, the German team wants to stop the sexualisierung of the sport. Hallelujah.
Though you might assume that judges’ direct view of gymnasts’ bodies is helpful, it’s actually a problem: As many observers have pointed out, gymnasts should be scored based on their performances, not their bodies. Leotards reveal details that do not need to be judged, like cellulite. As any Lululemon-wearing human knows, good spandex can hide, lift, or emphasize, providing much-needed breathing room.
The German unitards are gorgeous navy-and-red pieces that glitter with crystals. That relief your eyes feel is aesthetic cohesion. Leotards typically juxtapose skin and curves and fabric, giving the eye no particular place to look, but lots of places to leer. Have you ever noticed that many humans look delightful either naked or dressed, but few look really good half-dressed? Same concept here. A well-conceived unitard’s design wholly incorporates the lines of all four-plus feet of the wearer’s body, providing the gaze consistent lines, shapes, and textures to follow.
It is, in short, visually lucid. And classy. And not a one-centimeter fabric slip away from pornography. And it leaves just enough to the imagination (though still quite little by any real-world standard). Three cheers for Germany.