By Vivian Ealy
On December 17, 2019, the PIAA passed a new rule for swimmers and divers across Pennsylvania regarding swimsuit coverage. The regulation states that “suits are being worn in such a way as to expose the athlete’s buttocks” and “suits shall be worn in the appropriate size as dictated by that manufacturer’s specifications for the athlete’s body type and shall remain unaltered.” It’s as though the school dress code is being extended onto the pool deck, which seems fair in a school environment; however, an official checking the “buttocks and breast” of the suit feels uncomfortable and almost violating. Although seemingly procedural, this guideline has sparked controversy, as it dictates how students should wear their suits in a demeaning manner.
The rule has especially spurred discussion among the female swimmers on the team; although the statement specifies that “this issue is not gender-specific”, female swimmers feel that this rule is targeting them. With the guideline in place this year, it seems as though male officials now have an excuse to look at females in an inappropriate way while they are in swimsuits, a cause of concern for many female swimmers.
Rules regarding swimsuits and what is appropriate already exist, however. The NFHS (National Federation of State High School Associations) has had a rule in place regarding swimsuits and how they should be worn, but the guidelines only discussed rules for the type of material the suit should be made out of and mentioned that the suit couldn’t have a “foreign substance to aid their speed”. The 2019 rule adds another aspect to the guideline that seems a bit excessive.
Although this type of rule is not new, girls on the team have already had uncomfortable experiences with swimsuit rules. Junior Hope Boldizar recalls an uncomfortable experience while competing at States in 2018, even before the new rule was put in place: “…They have officials who are seated in a chair right outside the locker room to patrol the girls coming in and out to make sure their suits are appropriate…When you go up to compete, all the girls stand in a line… and each girl does a full spin so the whole suit can be checked… getting checked during a 360 Spin [seems] degrading.” She also remembers a girl crying in the locker room after the official had told her that her suit was too small and that she needed to change. The new rule would only make this experience worse as the officials are checking more areas of the suit.
By comparing Boldizar’s experience with that of a guy, it is obvious that this rule is aimed towards girls. The guys and girls swam at separate times at States, so junior Connor Paladino recounts his experience during the guys competition in 2018 too, mentioning that there were no officials waiting outside of the locker rooms and that they did not make them spin in a circle to check their suits; however, they were asked to change if there was writing on their suits.
Also, some suits may simply not be “appropriate” depending on the particular girl’s body type. Een if the suit is full coverage, it may not necessarily cover everything. According to the rules, swimmers have to wear one-pieces, and those are not designed to fit every body type. This rule body shames girls who don’t necessarily fit into the suit because they have a different body type. If their suit was deemed not “appropriate,” they would be asked to change and their entire meet would be interrupted because their suit doesn’t cover them the same way it covers someone who is smaller than them, even though they may be wearing the same suit. Also, most swimsuits simply aren’t designed to cover everything, so it is difficult to find those “appropriate” competition suits. The male suits fit differently and don’t cover their torso, so finding a suit that appropriately covers the body is much easier. Some of the male suits go down to the knees as well, so appropriate cover isn’t even an issue.
Personally, the issue did not affect me much this year; however, there were some uncomfortable experiences this season with the team as a whole. For instance, statements about suit coverage were directed only towards females before the dual meets and not towards the guys. Although there weren’t serious issues this year, it is important to address the inequity of the rule in order to prevent problems for next season.
The new rule is simply uncomfortable, and it is vital to get to the root of the issue. The guideline was put in place in order to enforce some sort of dress code on the pool deck because “athletes serve as role models and representatives of their sport, school, and state association”; however, there has to be a better, more appropriate way to address the issue so girls don’t feel violated on the pool deck. It would be best to repeal the rule for the time being. It is better to let some people show “too much” skin than to put all of the girls on high school swim teams in Pennsylvania in an uncomfortable situation. It may be productive to look into designing swimsuits with fuller-coverage bottoms for multiple different body types so it is easier to shop for those types of suits.