Model Plays Sports In Male And Female Olympic Outfits To See How They Perform

by Alexandra Svokos
Rain Dove / Mark Wijsman

My appreciation for athleticism was sidetracked by more than just distress when I watched Americans Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross lose to Brazilians Ágatha Bednarczuk Rippel and Bárbara Seixas de Freitas in the Olympic beach volleyball semi-finals this week.

I couldn't stop wondering if the athletes were worried about having wardrobe malfunctions in front of a big crowd and on international television.

After all, if I take a jog on the beach, I'm constantly picking at my bikini to make sure I'm not showing more than I want. So the thought of doing something like this seemed a little precarious.


Meanwhile, I knew, the male volleyball players didn't have to think too much about that.

Male and female athletes tend to wear very different outfits -- even when they compete in the same sport. This makes some sense since we have different bodies and social pressures, but can it be distracting or hurt athletic performance?

Apparently, I wasn't the only one wondering about this. Model Rain Dove, who is androgynous, was interested in the actual performance differences between the uniforms male and female athletes wear.

So, she put them to the test.

Dove tried on typical outfits for men and women in a handful of sports and saw how she felt performing in them.


Rain Dove / Mark Wijsman

There was a lot of discussion over the women's beach volleyball outfits this year. The Egyptian team competed at the Rio Olympics in hijabs, long sleeves and leggings.


But besides that team, most women wore bikini bottoms and sports bras. Dove noted you have to be really comfortable in your own skin to wear the typical women's outfits.

But in terms of athletic performance, she found the women's more "freeing." However, there were downsides:

The major issues of worrying about if I had camel toe or sand in my underwear trumped the benefits.

Ultimately, the men's was better for athletic performance because she was less distracted by the outfit and felt more comfortable moving around.


Rain Dove / Mark Wijsman

For swimming, women are actually more covered up than men at the Olympics.

Dove said, overall, the men's swimming suit was more comfortable than the women's for actual swimming. Being in the pool, however, was another story. Dove wrote,

The pool we shot this at was very confused and upset by me being topless doing laps -- but hey I swam faster!


Rain Dove / Mark Wijsman

Female tennis players have to wear skirts and dresses, which has been the cause of much discussion over the years, especially when a Williams sister decides to do it up.

A dress Nike provided at Wimbledon this year actually caused some performance issues because of its design.

Like with the volleyball outfits, Dove said she played better in the men's outfits because she wasn't as distracted or constricted. She wrote,

Wearing the men's outfits allowed for maximum breathability and I thought only about my game. Not if I was accidentally flashing my butt to people. I scored twice as much when wearing 'men's' attire.

Track & Field

Rain Dove / Mark Wijsman

Track and field is another sport where the female athletes get flashy. They wear tight shorts and sports bras but decorate them with fantastic hair, temporary tattoos and jewelry.

Dove notes there are some reasons for this flashiness. First of all, men (and women) like to comment on women's appearance -- particularly if they're not wearing makeup.

Just this week, a bunch of men said women should wear makeup to compete in the Olympics. Nice!

Second, unfortunately, female athletes often get endorsement deals -- where the money is -- based on appearance. So if you want to make money off your sport, you tend to have to look good, as well as perform well.

But in terms of the track and field outfits themselves, Dove found she ran faster in the freer women's suit, which was "a lot easier to run in."


Rain Dove / Mark Wijsman

As a gymnastics enthusiast, I was particularly interested in this comparison.

Women's gymnastics has a much larger emphasis on beauty -- from appearance to movements.

While the women dress up and wear literally 5,000 Swarovski crystals on their leotards, the men compete in "competition shirts" and reject anything sparkly or metallic.

The men wear baggy pants (or shorts) to compete in gymnastics as they do tumbles and swing over the pommel horse. Dove found this difficult. She said,

I was more physically comfortable in the men's, however the tightness of the female outfit made tumbles and flips a lot smoother.

Overall, Dove performed better in the women's gymnastics outfit.

Of course, this isn't definitive.

Dove isn't an Olympic athlete. She's just a human testing some things out.

But it's an interesting base-level comparison in the different distractions and obstacles male and female athletes have while competing and one more way to see the way in which gender is presented, even on the athletic field.

Citations: Newsday, The New York Times, Cosmopolitan, Cosmopolitan, New York Times