The creation of sports bras began in the summer of 1977, as Lisa Lindahl, Polly Smith and Hinda Miller crafted what would become today’s women’s sports bras. These bras were designed to provide support and comfort for female athletes and have revolutionized women’s athletics. Now, 44 years later, sports bras have continuously improved, but the sexualization of women athletes and their bodies is still present in today’s culture.
The women’s cross country team at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey experienced this firsthand. A New York Times article details a cross country practice on the university’s track in almost 70-degree heat. Due to the heat and the intense workout, runners began to take off their shirts for relief.
The coach of the university’s football team that was practicing at the same time on the field inside the track, complained saying it was “distracting.” The football staff did not want their players’ attention to be diverted by the sight of women running in sports bras, so the athletic department made the decision that the football team would use the university’s track and field and the cross country teams would be required to use the track at the high school.
Regardless of the excuses made by the university and their athletic department, the true reason was clear: the men on the football team couldn’t handle seeing a woman in a sports bra.
I am a runner and I have certainly heard my fair share of shaming for running in a sports bra. I have been running cross country and track since the 7th grade and even then, we weren’t allowed to take off our shirts for practice. I was a middle schooler and already had been taught the idea that my skin was meant to be covered.
When I got to high school, there was much of the same. Of course, during school hours shoulders must always be covered and when cross country or track season comes around, anytime we are on school property our shirts must be on. The Snider women’s track team has had complaints because we were practicing in sports bras. To me, running in a sports bra is exactly how I want to represent Snider High School because it shows how focused I am on my sport rather than other people’s opinions about my body.
When we do workouts in the middle of a hot day, running in our sports bras is the most comfortable option. The last thing that I am concerned about during practice is looking like whatever society feels a woman should look like. Our male teammates, who have always been supportive of us, have never had complaints about running without their shirts and the reason is that one gender’s chest is far more sexualized than the other.
The shame that society pushes upon a woman who shows her skin can only be the result of fear: the fear of women being comfortable in their bodies and being able to rise above being treated like objects. The effort put into controlling what women wear and when they wear it must stop.
One of the most prevalent places for this is in athletics, and for younger women this criticism is rarely from people our own age. In fact, it’s usually from fully grown adults. When men take off their shirts to exercise, there aren’t complaints or reprimands, but when women are seen in a sports bra the main concern is the attention span of a man rather than the comfort of a woman.
Sports bras are not lingerie, nor are they meant to be sexy and provocative. In fact, they cover what society deems needs to be covered, so why is it acceptable for men but not for women? There is nothing sexual about a woman’s shoulders, her stomach or her back but when they show society tells us that “we’re asking for it” and “looking for attention” because “boys will be boys” and we should know better.
The truth is that we didn’t ask for it, we aren’t looking for attention, and the phrase “boys will be boys” is just perpetuating a disgusting perspective of women.