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Gymnasts take a stand against sexualization with 'new kind of uniform'

A group of German gymnasts aimed to send a message against the sexualization of female gymnasts by wearing full-body leotards during the European championships.
Elisabeth Seitz
Elisabeth Seitz of Germany competes on the beam during the Women's Artistic Gymnastics Finals on April 23 in Basel, Switzerland.Eurasia Sport Images / Getty Images
/ Source: TMRW

A trio of German gymnasts hoped to send a message against the sexualization of female athletes when they wore full-body suits that covered their arms and legs during the European championships last week.

Sarah Voss, 21; Kim Bui, 32; and Elisabeth Seitz, 27, all wore leotards at the European Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Basel, Switzerland, that covered their legs to their ankles and their arms to their elbows.

Elisabeth Seitz
Elisabeth Seitz of Germany competes in a full-body leotard on the beam on April 23.Eurasia Sport Images / Getty Images

"We set an example by wearing a new kind of uniform," Seitz wrote on Instagram in a caption translated from German. "This uniform is for all gymnasts who feel uncomfortable or sexualized in the regular uniform. In our opinion, every gymnast should have the option to choose which type of uniform she feels most comfortable in, in order to perform."

The standard outfit for gymnastic competition is a traditional leotard with a half-length sleeve, and sleeveless garments are allowed, according to Reuters. The only times gymnasts have worn leotards covering their legs during international competition have been almost exclusively for religious reasons.

Voss also shared some photos on Instagram of her competing in the full-body uniform.

"I am immensely proud that I was the first one able to present this project that is close to our hearts," she wrote in the caption translated from German. "Why not feel good and still look elegant?”

The German Gymnastics Association also released a statement saying the goal of the new uniforms is "aesthetic presentation without feeling uncomfortable."

Voss told the BBC that the aim was to allow the competitors to "feel safe" wearing whichever leotard they choose.

Sarah Voss
Germany's Sarah Voss competes in a full-body outfit during the Women's Beam 2021 European Artistic Gymnastics Championships. Arnd Wiegmann / Reuters

"To do splits and jumps, sometimes the leotards are not covering everything, sometimes they slip and that's why we invented a new form of leotard so that everyone feels safe around competitions and training," she said. "Every time you don't feel safe it's distracting you from what you want to perform. I think that feeling safe and not thinking about what other people can or cannot see is quite relieving when you can compete like that.

"Some girls quit this beautiful sport (because of having to wear leotards), so that is why this is a great option for everyone to stay in the sport they love and don't think about anything else about their body — just about their performance."

Gymnasts have been using their outfits during competition to make statements in recent years, including American superstar Simone Biles who raised awareness by wearing a pale teal leotard at a 2018 competition to highlight the color of ribbons for sexual assault awareness and prevention.

Biles is a sexual assault survivor herself and has frequently spoken about protecting young girls in gymnastics after being one of the numerous victims who was sexually assaulted by former Team USA doctor Larry Nassar.

Biles also addressed body image issues in a candid Instagram post last year in which she wrote about the negative effects of comments about her appearance while competing.

"I'd be lying if I told you that what people say about my arms, my legs, my body ... of how I look like in a dress, leotard, bathing suit or even in casual pants hasn't gotten me down at times," she wrote.

"Today, I say I am done competing VS. beauty standards and the toxic culture of trolling when others feel as though their expectations are not met ... because nobody should tell you or I what beauty should or should not look like," she added.