When I was 12 years old, my mother reprimanded me for dressing too provocatively. My outfit would not raise a single eyebrow today, but back in the late 80’s, it was still considered trashy to wear a miniskirt that was two inches above the knee and (gasp) lace gloves with the fingertips cut out. Like all 12-year-old girls back then, I was trying to be Madonna, but only had a vague understanding about what that actually meant.
In the most diplomatic way possible, my mother tried explaining to me why it was wrong to dress this way in public. It was a familiar conversation, and always a confusing one. When I was in second grade, both my mother and my teacher took turns both scolding me and begging me not to take my shirt off at recess. It had been a particularly hot spring that year, and all the boys took their shirts off to play basketball. I was playing basketball with them, and I too, was sweating bullets. Why was I being singled out?
“Because you’re a girl, Marie. Girls are different.” They could never bring themselves to explain why girls were different. My chest was identical to the chests of all my second grade male classmates (a trend that would sadly continue for me until I was damn near 20). I just had to accept that girls were required to keep their shirts on, while boys could take theirs off.
So when I was 12 and getting yelled at for my pathetic Madonna imitation ensemble, my mother realized she was going to have to give me a tangible reason why my outfit was deemed unacceptable, one that would save her weeks of fighting and trips to my teacher’s office.
“Because,” she struggled, “when certain men see you dressed like that, they might think you’re selling something you aren’t.”
“Girl Scout Cookies?” I wondered.
“They might think you’re selling yourself.” I stared at her blankly. “Your body.” Still nothing. “They might think you’re selling sex.”
Wait, what?!?! Whoa. Slow down there, missy!!!! To further clarify, my 17-year-old sister chimed in with “Mom thinks you look like a whore.” Okay, I sort of understood the sex-selling part (ew), but what was this “whore” thing? A monster? Based on my mom’s dramatic reaction to my sister, I knew it must have been even uglier than a monster.
So there I was, an ugly monster selling sex, and over the months, I started learning more and more from my friends and society about what attention I could expect to receive from boys (and apparently johns) based on the various sartorial choices I made.
It was about that time that I joined the Laredo Middle School girl’s volleyball team. I loved playing the game and had a pretty mean serve. Unfortunately, joining the team meant donning a ridiculous uniform with long sleeves and very short shorts. I really hated this fucking thing.
The legs would bunch up in the crotch as I scrambled for the ball, and I was painfully aware that my ass cheeks were open to the bleachers every time I had to bend over, which was always, because it’s fucking volleyball. For some reason, however, my parents had no problem with this get-up. Despite the fact that I was not allowed to own daisy dukes, and that I could be sent home from school if my skirt hem reached higher than my outstretched fingertips, it was considered perfectly fine for me to squat and jump in this little number:
Again, I found myself jealous of the boys in my class. Their volleyball uniforms were comfortable. They could play with confidence in their long, flowing Umbro shorts.
As my team won game after game, I noticed girls from various schools would eye each other up and down. Not to get into each others’ heads, but to sympathetically acknowledge each others’ uniforms. Many girls suffered the same cheek-grazing shorty-shorts, but I remember one team I played (and beat) had shorts more reasonable in length. Unfortunately, they were fabricated in a thin, white polyester that let you see each player’s underwear.
For many years I mentally blocked the memories of these heinous athletic fashion crimes. It’s been a long time since junior high, and I assumed things got better for girls. Nearly every time I fire up the ole’ Internet, I see some article about a girl being sent home from a school dance for being too scantily clad, or about how yet another female sports team is kicking ass and building a bigger audience. More respect for sport. Less respect for skin exposure. Things must have gotten better for junior high school volleyball players, right?
Infuriatingly, no. A precious 11-year-old girl in my life is currently trying out for her school’s volleyball team. The shorts she’s wearing are so short, they practically look like underwear. She’s afraid to dry them in a clothes dryer, lest they shrink to an even smaller size. The uniform they will put her in if she makes the team will be just as short.
Her school is following a very common trend. And it’s disturbing.
Do a Google image search for boy’s volleyball teams at the junior high or high school level. You will see confident boys in reasonable uniforms looking like they’re going to kick your ass:
Now do a Google image search for girl’s middle school volleyball teams. You will see in most images, the girls look apologetic and strike modest poses that clearly show how uncomfortable and naked they feel in their uniforms. Sometimes, these girls are blatantly sexualized by people taking bend-over sneak shots.
There are now many websites like HotVolleyBall.com that let horny men rub out to girls in volleyball uniforms. Is that what we training young girls for?
And why is that top male volleyball athletes still manage to keep their legs covered, like soccer players, for the most basic running and jumping? If there was a competitive advantage to wearing skimpy underwear instead of comfortable shorts, men would have done it by now, just as they do with wrestling, gymnastics, swimming, and ice skating. Male athletes have no shame in attire when it comes to winning.
So could somebody please tell me why schools and athletic teams are still subjecting young girls to this bullshit? What is the message we’re sending to these young ladies? And who are the creepers designing these things?
Seriously. Somebody please explain the logic to me. I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.