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When you hear about student dress code controversies, you probably imagine debates over hem lengths or tank tops in K-12 schools.
However, a college student is taking her campus gym to task after staff members kicked her out for exercising in a crop top.
Sarah Villafañe, 19, a sophomore at the College of Charleston in Charleston, South Carolina, described the recent incident on Facebook.
“I've worn this same outfit all day,” she wrote, describing the athletic crop top that exposed a few inches of midriff. “Went to three classes and spoke personally with each of my professors today and they didn't have a problem.”
But when she went to the George Street Fitness Center, a staff member asked her “to put on a different shirt. Obviously I didn't bring an extra shirt to the gym and wasn't about to wear my flannel while working out.”
Villafañe decided to start her workout wearing the crop top. But soon, another gym employee came over and asked her to “put [her] shirt back on.”
“I said, ‘I have a shirt on,’” she recalled. “They say, ‘No, that’s not a shirt … you need full coverage.”
When Villafañe still refused to change, a gym manager came over and asked her to leave.
“They told me that it was a rule that you cannot wear crop tops in the gym,” Villafañe told TODAY Style in an email. “They told me to look at the rules on the bulletin board at the front of the gym. When I looked at the rules (which are not posted anywhere but on that bulletin board on a piece of computer paper), the dress code simply said, ‘Athletic attire must be worn.’ The rule says nothing regarding crop tops, or midriffs in general.”
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She said that to her, the policy seemed more about policing women’s bodies.
“They gave me no valid reason for why I could not wear my athletic clothing in the gym,” she told TODAY. “They said, ‘You need more coverage,’ which angered me and made me feel objectified and sexualized.”
As Villafañe’s post about the incident gathered more than 1,000 likes and shares on Facebook, school officials spoke out, clarifying that crop tops are banned at the gym purely for sanitary reasons.
Mike Robertson, a media spokesman for the College of Charleston, pointed to a study from the National Athletic Trainers Association warning of skin diseases that can be contracted at a gym.
“Because of this possibility, the College of Charleston and many other colleges and universities follow best practices that require people in the gym to wear a full shirt while working out in order to minimize skin exposure to possible infectious agents,” Robertson said in an email to TODAY.
However, Villafañe doesn’t buy this explanation.
“The gym has since said that they made me leave for ‘sanitary concerns,'" she said. "However, they did not express these sanitary concerns when I was being kicked out, nor do they state them in their dress code."
She added that in her view, there seems to be a gender double standard when it comes to attire at the school gym.
“Many people have told me that they have seen girls wearing similar outfits to mine in the CofC gym, as well as men wearing muscle tees that expose their midriffs,” she said. “It is interesting to me that the men I have seen wearing jeans in the gym (a quite obvious violation of their one dress code rule, ‘Athletic attire must be worn’) were not bothered or kicked out for not abiding by the dress code rules.”
Villafañe’s Facebook post sparked plenty of debate, with commenters weighing in on both sides of the controversy.
“Absolutely ridiculous,” one supporter wrote. “Her attire is no different than what professional athletes train in.”
Others sided with the gym.
“It's not a shirt. Rules are rules. Put a shirt on,” one woman wrote.
“Im not a prude by an means,” another commenter weighed in, “but I do think appropriate clothing is common sense for a classroom, for a gym, or for work environments. I agree with the gym — if it does not comply with their code, and if it poses a health problem, then DO NOT WEAR IT.”
Villafañe argued that if the gym wants to enforce a rule about exposed midriffs, the regulation should be posted in writing somewhere in the facility.
Bottom line, she said, she wore the crop top because it's comfortable workout wear — not because she wanted to be provocative or stir up controversy.
“I was not in the gym to ‘show off my curves,” she said. “I was in the gym to improve my health and wellness."