Anchorage, AK — Breckynn Willis, a seventeen-year-old on Dimond High School’s swim team, raced her way to victory at a dual meet against Chugiak High on Friday, September 6th. However, much to her and the team’s disbelief, the win was stripped away due to a “uniform violation.”
Willis, a top swimmer in the state, exited the pool only to be confronted by one of the officials. The official, unnamed for privacy reasons, disqualified the teen swimmer, arguing, “Her suit was so far up I could see butt cheek touching butt cheek” (CNN). The disqualification received national attention, and although overturned on September 10th, the case reveals some darker truths and defects.
The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFSHSA) has a list of swimsuit regulations, one of which is the “modesty rule.” The rule states, “Suits must be worn in the appropriate size as dictated by that manufacturer’s specifications for the athlete’s body type and shall remain unaltered.”
Firstly, the problem with this regulation lies in its ambiguity and the officials’ flexibility in deciding implementation. While all officials must comply with the standard rule, they have the freedom to disqualify whomever, as deemed applicable. This subjectivity could lead to several issues when numerous competitors “break” the uniform rule, but only one is punished.
Secondly, swimmers differ in sizes. Willis wore an approved team suit during the race she faced disqualification in. With her mixed-race background and curvier figure, as she later told reports, the swimsuit fits her differently than it does the other girls on the team. This case calls into question what’s really being policed here: the suits or the swimmers’ bodies?
In recent years, young swimmers have felt immense pressure to conform to the fit of various racing suits. In 2018, USA Swimming passed a national tech suit ban for 12 and unders in races. The rule, mainly stemming from the absurdity of dressing 12-year-old swimmers in expensive suits meant for higher-level competition, also resulted in the fear of creating body dysmorphia in little kids, since tech suits are significantly smaller and known for their painfully tight compression. Despite the ban, many still worry about their sizes. Instead of focusing on the sport, and appreciating their strength resulting from intense training, these athletes struggle with the appearance of their bodies and become self-conscious, impacting a crucial aspect of swimming: their mentality.
Finally, I question the gender disparity behind the NFSHSA standards. The uniform rule requires that “all swim and dive officials must consider whether a swimmer is intentionally rolling up their swimsuits in order to expose their buttocks” (NBC 15). Now, I look at this rule in incredulity. As a swimmer myself, I’m familiar with the common “suit wedgie.” It’s normal. Almost everyone in the sport has dealt with one. Despite the desires of NFSHSA, most swimsuit designs, especially high-cut ones, don’t completely cover a female’s bottom, and they certainly aren’t made to be a “one-size-fits-all.” So how could officials discern whether a girl truly hitches up her suit intentionally and why is it such a big concern? Are these restrictions targeting women? Does this now become a question of sexism?
And so, I declare a need for change, refinement, and clarity in swimsuit regulations. We’re simply too old to single out and shame women. We’re too old for the vague regulations that mirror the controversial dress codes in schools. We’re too old to make judgments, not on merit, but on the shape of someone’s body. It’s time to start recognizing young and deserving athletes instead of penalizing them for the flaws in our system.