Creative Costumes or Athletic Attire: The Gymnastics Conundrum
Gymnastics differs from mainstream sports in more ways that one could possibly recount. Players do not use a ball nor does an offense ever face off against a defense. Teams do not even have to compete for a competition to occur. A referee does not make a call; however, a judge provides a score. Gymnastics also differs in that the mens and women’s versions share very few attributes. Women do not compete with the same rules, regulations, or points system as men. In tennis, basketball, volleyball, golf, and countless other sports, women and men compete in exactly the same way but only against their same gender. Women’s and men’s gymnastics share floor exercise, a vaulting table, and judges. The few additional similarities do not draw a strong enough tie to even consider them the same sport. GymMapStics favors the utilizing the appellations “hexagymnastics” and “quadragymnastics” as suggested by the the amazing Julia Sharp. In other sports women frequently even wear versions of the men’s uniforms, except for tennis in which women wear skirts.
Gymnastics also breaks this mold and participants in women’s artistic gymnastics wear different attire than their male counterparts. The clothing for each gender allows the judges to accurately assess body shape and position but the men change their clothing based on the event and women remain in long sleeve leotards throughout the competition. In the primordial days of gymnastics, women wore ballet leotards and the skills they performed closely mirrored skills performed in a ballet. The sport has grown and evolved since then and women compete amazing athletic feats rather than balance on a set of mens parallel bars that have been placed on different height settings. This begs the question of whether the outfits women wear while competing in the hardest sport in the world should reflect their athletic prowess or they should channel the balletic roots of the sport and embrace the idea of leotards as costumes that contribute to the overall performance.
On the second day of the 2015 P&G Championships, American gymnast Bailie Key wore a leotard inspired by a tuxedo. This leotard caused many to do a double take and perhaps mutter an expletive question. Bailie’s coach Kim Zmeskal-Burdette would reveal that her leotard served as a costume for her floor routine in which she performs as a magician in a circus. This explanation also allows a gymnastics fan to view Bailie’s beam routine as a tightrope act rather than simply another beam routine. Kim has previously mentioned her desire to delve into the performance side of gymnastics and scraped the surface in previous years with leotards that have certain stories or inspirations. This year Kim went full out and Bailie’s leotard serves as a successful implementation of a leotard as a costume. The tuxedo leotard added another dimension to an already wonderful performance. Bailie’s fellow USA gymnast MyKayla Skinner wore a green leotard to symbolize the 2015 World Championships in Scotland. Although geographically incorrect, Skinner’s intention and desire to convey a message through her leotard added another layer to her performance. Polish gymnast Marta Pihan-Kulesza frequently strays from the typical gymnast image of a plain leotard and Nadia-style pig tails. Marta usually dyes at least a portion of her hair and sometimes shaves the bottom half or the side. Her unique look has become a signature and gym fans can look forward to seeing what new look she will bring to a competition. In 2014 Marta competed with the Pink Panther Theme by Henry Mancini and at the Blume Memorial meet she wore a leotard with pink leopard print. The leotard draws in the crowd and also allows Marta to connect on a different level with both the music and the audience.
Gymnastics excludes many of the elements that most people associate with sports. The lack of inflated balls or teams and even the inclusion of judges gives gymnastics a bad rap. Many people view gymnastics as a fringe sport that does not even really have a place at athletic competitions such as the Olympic Games, European Games, Pan American games, etc. Gymnasts and fans should do all they can do squash this idea and promote gymnastics as a sport. Elite gymnasts practice the same if not more hours a week that their parents attend their jobs. To quote Stick It, the things gymnasts do make Navy Seals look like wusses. Their competition attire should reflect this hard work and gymnasts should dress as athletes rather than as the second runner up contestant on a third season episode of Toddlers and Tiaras. Gymnasts work harder in their short careers than most people work on anything in their entire life and they should not be paraded around like show dogs. Costume leotards discourage the idea that gymnast are athletes and allows people to continue to view gymnastics as a less than serious sport.
Despite the many arguments against costume leotards and discouraging the visual aspect of the sport, the gymnast herself may perform better when she wears a leotard that makes her a character. The theory of enclothed cognition suggests that wearing clothing alters not only others’ opinions but also one’s perception of self and encourages improved performance. On Day 1 of P&G Championships in 2015, Bailie wore a leotard her All Around World Championship coach had also worn. Perhaps Bailie put on the leotard and channeled her coach. Perhaps on Day 2 of the same competition, Bailie put on her magician leotard and performed with greater precision and attention to detail because she viewed herself the ringmaster of a circus. Perhaps Mykayla Skinner’s leotard empowered her because she understood it as a Scottish leotard. A costume leotard does not only influence fans but the gymnast as well.
Unlike most mainstream sports, gymnasts compete at the highest level before they reach adulthood and continue to enjoy dressing in sparkles and bright colors. They should not be forced into boring supposedly athletic outfits in order to make adults feel more comfortable. Gymnasts also frequently sacrifice events that many see as a rite of passage in order to achieve their goals in the sport. They do not attend proms because they are homeschooled and have sweet sixteen parties in their gym. They compete a few times and a year and if they want to dress up in a leotard that has just as many sparkles as and costs the same amount a prom dress, they should be free to do so. Simone Biles’ coach Aimee Boormann eloquently put someone in his place about this topic following the dismay of many gymnastics fans over the apparent overuse of pink and red. Coach Aimee mentioned the lack of fancy dances and stated that the leotards make the girls feel pretty. Gymnasts are athletes who spend a majority of their lives in sweaty, chalky gyms and if wearing a leotard improves their self image, they should be allowed to do. Also, matching hair ribbons are fun and should never be discouraged.
Additionally, a costume or embellished leotard does diminish a gymnasts status as an athlete. Under Armor, a leading sports and athletic apparel company, currently sponsors USA Gymnastics as well as American Ballet Theater Principal Ballerina Misty Copeland. Under Armor’s sponsorship confirms that one does not have to partake in conventional one on one or team on team competition to be perceived as an athlete.
Regardless of the competition, scores and rankings, the incomprehensible code of points, and the innumerable hours of training behind her, the gymnast first and foremost performs. An audience watches the gymnast who does not directly compete with another gymnast which makes gymnastics different than other sports but also wonderful. A great gymnast and performer will entice the audience to empathize with her performance and she should do all that she can to enhance the value of the performance, especially if that includes becoming as a character through dressing in a costume.