Athletries The Untold History of Ancient Greek Women Athletes

Athletries The Untold History of Ancient Greek Women Athletes is a monograph exploring the history of women athletes in Greek civilization. While any devoted follower of women’s sports and history knows about women’s participation in the ancient world, this is something new to the general public. For many the idea of female athlete is a new phenomenon that occurred with Title IX and the feminist movement. This obviously is not true, seeing as there are cases in which women played sports and were athletes. The reason this is not examined to the same extent as male participation is due in part to sexist prejudice and the fact that sports historiography is comparatively new. There are some who may not believe women did such things. Archaeology provides evidence of the ancient female athlete and the types of competitions they were involved in. Seeing as some civilizations either had an oral tradition of record keeping or few documents that still remain, artifacts help solve puzzles of the past. Authors Anne Reese and Irini  Vallera-Rickerson combine both history and archaeology to provide the reader with a vivid description of the female athlete of ancient Greek civilization. Originally published in 2002, at the time there was sill few secondary sources on this subject. The monograph discusses the Olympic games, festivals, and mythology in the context of women’s sports.While this is an entertaining and informative book, it does have some minor flaws .  Athletries The Untold History of Ancient Greek Women Athletes does successfully prove that the female athlete is not a recent phenomenon, but they are part of a long history of sports competition.

        The text does a great job of describing women’s status in Ancient Greece. it varied depending on the period and area. Minoan civilization was known to worship a mother goddess. This continued into Mycenaean civilization until Zeus became a replacement. Athens and Sparta were two extremes of the political spectrum. Women were restricted in terms of the laws in Athens. Their freedom was limited, yet they were allowed to attend some schools. However, women were under legal guardianship of the men in their lives whether it was their husband, brother, or father. Sparta gave women more freedom, yet this should not be seen as a conviction in equality. The monograph makes that mistake by implying it. The only reason women were allowed to engage in physical activity was so that they could produce stronger children. The males would become soldiers in this militarist society and the women would look after the home while men were at war. Citizens of Sparta male or female were raised to serve the state without question. Thebes and Korinth fell in a political and social middle ground between these two states.

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Seeing as each city-state was independent, the laws were different in regards to women. Accounts of Spartan civilization come mostly from Aristotle, Herdotos, Pausinias, Plutarch, and Thukydides. These were mostly Non-Spartans, so accounts could have a level  of bias.It was a common Athenian opinion that Spartans were rude, uncivilized, and rustic. The accounts do expose what training for women in Sparta was like. Their exercise regimen consisted of wrestling, footraces, javelin throwing, and discus. Spartan women also developed a type of exercise known as the bibasis. These were exercises of jumping in place. A Roman poet known as Propertius claimed that women also were involved in pancratium a sport which was a combination of boxing and wrestling. Maybe it could best be described as the MMA of ancient Greece.

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Spartans had a different attitude in regards to how boys and girls were raised. Girls and boys would perform physical activities in the nude. Gymnos the ancient Greek word in which gymnastics is derived,  means naked or without clothing. Athenians saw this and the fact that women had more freedom as vulgar. Athens was a place of the arts and culture. It was not compatible with the militarist and rustic society of Sparta.The fact that Spartan women had more independence did not mean the society valued gender equality. The idea was to have women become strong breeders and produce great warriors. King Lykurgos produced the foundation for a mighty power in the Mediterranean . This did not stop the state from falling to Macedonia and the Achaean League  around 195 B.C.E.. When The Roman Empire invaded in 140s B.C.E they divided Greece into provinces to be ruled directly. The Romans admired Spartan militarism and declared Sparta a free city. There was a small rival of the old Spartan culture. Women lived different lives in Athens and Sparta. Women were regulated to a domestic sphere in Athens, while Sparta allowed some freedom for them. Women’s status varied depending on the social and political circumstances of a city-state.

         Women athletes may seem like a new phenomenon, yet there is evidence that they were present in Greek civilization. Aegean civilization (3000- 1100 B.C.E) provides artifacts of sportswomen of the ancient period.  Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations reveal much about the activities of these athletes . Fresco fragments, clay seals, and reliefs found at Knossos are documentations of history of the sports Minoan participated in. Arthur Evans was the archaeologist responsible for uncovering the mysteries on krete.  His excavation allowed him to produce a four volume work called The Palace of Minos at Knossos. The art that Minoans left is a documentation about their society. Women just like the men were active participants in bull-jumping and bull-leaping. These sports were thought to be religious in nature as a way to honor the Mother Goddess. The Mother Goddess may be an indication that women in Minoan society had higher status. There is some disputes over how exactly bull leaping worked. The Toreador Frescoes depict bull leaping. Doing this action would require a huge amount of upper body strength and acrobatic skill. The text proposes theories, however it does not reach an answer. It could be that bulls were trained to perform in a certain way to allow acrobats to jump on them.

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The Minoan Mother Goddess was usually depicted with snakes in her hands. Goddesses were more common before the rise of monotheistic religion.

 If the bull was charging and an acrobat would grab it by the horns, this would be dangerous. To somersault for bull leaping would be physically impossible. It is possible that the fresco is being interpreted to literally. A more logical explanation may be that this was depicting bull fighting rather than actual leaping. The feats were just embellished for the sake of entertainment. One problem with archaeology is that there may be a rush to jump to a conclusion too soon. These scholars have to be detectives of the past gathering artifacts as their clues.

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The bull leaping fresco  shows two women  engaging  in bull sport with a man jumping on the bull.

 Iconography can be a useful tool in archaeological study. It has revealed that women normally in Minoan art were depicted with white or lighter skin and men with darker skin. Clothing differed in artistic depiction. The loin cloths that women wore had more designs and variation in color. The art also shows straps on the wrist and hands. The function was probably for getting a better grip on the bull. Frescoes were prevalent plaster based paintings. Pigments would be applied to plaster on buildings depicting sporting events or activities of daily life. Buon fresco required a method of applying pigment to wet plaster and the color will then sink into the wall. Fresco secco applies the pigment combine with an organic preservative ( such as egg whites ) to a dry surface.

Bull leaping as depicted from Minoan art would require a huge amount of upper body strength, acrobatic, and gymnastic skill. It seems unlikely that a person would be able to do this without serious injury. 

Besides frescoes, seals also leave evidence of female athletes in the ancient world.  Seals were carved as well as engraved objects made of stone, clay, or bone. The seals were used to make impressions on clay or wax. It was a means of verification of authenticity. It also was used to denote ownership. Normally seals were used in the home or market place. Seals were also used as symbols of identity among people.

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This is a seal depicting bull leaping. There were two types of seals which included the stamp and the cylinder. The stamp was flat and made the impression by pressing down. The cylinder had to be rolled over to make an impression.

Statues and sculpture are also artifacts that show that female athletes were active in the ancient world. The reason why serious study was not given to such findings was because many male scholars thought it was not important enough to give attention to. The 20th century saw the rise of women’s history as a major academic field. Since then, there have been efforts to uncover women’s roles in the past. There still remains more to be discovered and learned. Heinrich Schliemann only discovered Mycenae in 1876. Prior to that, there was no knowledge of its existence. There could be many lost civilizations globally, but there are limited remains or evidence of their existence. Artifacts, documents, and art are records of history.

Greek female athletes depicted in sculpture. 

Still there is a level of skepticism. It appears that the only sports women were involved in were bull sports. There are books and academic journals that state women in Minoan civilization also did running, swimming, and hunting.  Opposing views are that the women depicted in art were performing religious ceremonies. Both perspectives could be valid, but there needs to be more exploration and research.

       The monograph also reveals to the readers the myth of the Olympic rings. The rings did not have their roots in ancient history. David C. Young revealed in “Myth About The Ancient Games ” that the rings myth can be traced to two American authors. Lynn and Gray Poole had mistaken an inscription from a movie prop and others copied their work. The rings have their origins in the 1936 Olympics. Leni Riefenstahl was the film-maker responsible for their existence. the rings were part of a prop used for her film Olympia. The stone was paced in the film at the stadium at Delphi. The Pooles erroneously thought this was genuine. The Olympic flame runner may also be a myth. Yet, there is reference to hearth that would be lit in the Prytaneum  discussed by Pausanias. This building was in the Altis and led to the exit of the gymnasium.

The passing of the torch is a creation of the modern Olympics. This tradition was not needed in the ancient world because the games were held in the same place. The modern Olympics can be hosted by various nation-states around the world. The propagation of this myth just demonstrates how fast misinformation can be conveyed. Athletries provides an explanation into myths and common misconceptions about ancient sports history.  A modern day invention was thought to have ancient roots. Through a mistake and incorrect information a myth of the Olympic ring origin was born .What makes the book enjoyable is that it reveals these little known facts.

      There were multiple games that women were competitors in. This included the Panhellenic Games, Olympic Games, Pythian Games, Nemean Games, and Isthmian Games. The Panhellenic Games refers to competitions held across Greek civilization. These athletic competitions were local, but expanded to include other city-states. Women could have been charioteers. The evidence found of women being part of the games is revealed in inscriptions with the names of women athletes. The inscriptions found at particular sites also reveal which event they competed in and the game she won. The games were held in honor of gods and goddesses such as Hera, Demeter, Zeus, and Apollo. Games were held in different years to prevent possible conflicts of overlap. The reason this was done was to allow high participation and attendance. All the games ended by 394 C.E. due to Christian belief they were pagan rituals. Emperor Theodosios I wanted an empire of Christian culture. Relevant to women in sports, the Heraea Games was a competition for women. Athletics were also part of festivals, which included poetry and singing. The cult of Hera was widespread, so it was no shock their was a festival and athletic events organized in honor of this goddess. The inscriptions leave us names of the athletes, but other than that there is no other biographical information. One inscription reveals a winner by the name Hedea who excelled at footraces in both the Nemean Games and Isthmian Games. Queens also may have been chariot racers. One inscription commemorates Egyptian Queen Verenike’s victory in the Nemean Games.  Athletics served an important purpose in ancient civilization.  It was not only a sort of binding adhesive to these societies, but a religious celebration.

       The authors propose one theory about the exact date of the Olympic games . A reader should be skeptical of the information they receive. They base this theory on the end of Troy VII around 1190 B.C.E, using Homer’s Illiad  as a marker. They are right to assume that 776 B.C.E is correct for the first recorded Olympic Games. However, there are still questions.  There is a possibility there were records of previous games that were lost to history. If the authors were to make such statements more evidence is required. This is a challenge for archaeologists considering the Olympiads were at various points continued or discontinued.  The renewal date of the Olympic Games was 884 B.C.E.  This appears to be the least cogent argument the text makes. The reasoning may be sound, however it does not meant it leads to the correct conclusion. The most reliable sources are taken from the writings of Pausinias. He claimed that the games were discontinued by King Oxylos ruler of Elis. The origin of the Olympics is not entirely certain, but there are numerous myth surrounding  the ancient athletic event. One myth is that Hercules stated the competition with his brothers. Another involves Pelops and Hippodamia. Mythology and stories have served a pivotal purpose in the transfer of cultural value systems in various societies. Greek civilization was no different in terms of that function. The authors should have provided more concrete evidence to support their claim.

     The monograph concludes with delineating the history of the modern Olympic Games. The first attempts at revival were in 1859 and 1870. This was under the auspices of Evangelos Zappas. This was funded out his own pocket, so the games at a certain point were no longer able to continue. The successful revival would come only with the help of Demetrios Vikelas and Baron Pierre de Coubertin. These individuals had connections to sports organizations and news editors. It was mostly Coubertin’s contacts that made revival of the games possible. The Olympic Games were revived in 1896 with competitors from around the globe. Women were not banned from competing, but there were efforts to exclude them.

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This did not stop Stamata Revithi from participating in a marathon in the 1896 Olympics. The IOC refused to recognize her running time. Women were competing in the Olympics by 1900, but it was only in golf and tennis. Pierre de Coubertin made it no secret that he did not want women to be competitors in the games. Sexist prejudice was keeping women out of sports. However, by the 21st century more women would become competitors from around the globe.  Decolonization that followed after World War Ii created new independent nation-states in Africa and Asia. From there more athletes would appear on the Olympic stage. The female athlete is not a recent phenomenon, There were women who participated in sports during the ancient period. Athletries  is a great book for anyone interested in ancient civilization, women’s history, and sport. Although an academic text it is not so pedantic  or intricate that a reader would become confused about what they are absorbing. The brief discussion of Greek myths will entertain those with an fascination with the classics. Certain theories they propose should be questioned. It should be understood that there remains more to be discovered. Athletries The Untold History of Ancient Greek Women Athletes is a book worth owning.

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Athletries The Untold History of Ancient Greek Women Athletes

A General Introduction to The History of Women in Sports

The World History Archive and Compendium

Before Title IX and the modern Olympics  women participated in sports. Women being athletes is not a recent phenomenon; there is a history dating back as far as ancient civilization. There were times in which women were prohibited from competition and in response formed games of their own. Normally, the historiography of sport focused on men’s participation and involvement in sports. Historians began to examine women’s involvement and the sociological and sex discrimination  issues in the 20th century. Due to the feminist movement women’s history and women’s studies were becoming part of university curriculum. While academia focused on women in politics, science, and the arts women in sports remained an ignored area. Sport historians began taking an interest when women’s numbers increased in sports. The 20th and the 21st century saw the highest participation of women in sports globally. Only 121 years ago women were not permitted to compete in…

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Gallery

Black History Month Celebration 2017

These are some Photoshop renditions to celebrate Black History Month. These feature women of color in sports from various parts of the diaspora. The last two years an observance was not recognized here, but it will continue to be more consistent. Given the current political climate in the United States, it is necessary. There will be other special posts through the month to celebrate African American women’s contribution to sports.

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Black History Month Celebration 2017

A History of the Bikini

What started a simple swim wear became a type of clothing important to women’s sports. The Bikini is a two piece swimsuit for women that contains a top (bra)  and underwear that is cut below the navel. This type of clothing can range from different sizes being smaller (thong or G-string)  or a much larger model. The bikini at fist was not popular among women, but that later changed. As women entered into the sports world the bikini became a part of women’s sports wear. Sports such as volleyball, bodybuilding,  and even other athletics. The swimwear has become an icon unto itself. This type of clothing accentuates the female figure and in the beginning there was resistance from the more socially conservative elements of society. Combined with that backlash and the low popularity in the initial stages, it seemed as if the Bikini would disappear. The situation would reverse and now you can see women wearing bikinis on beaches or sporting events.

             The  modern bikini was developed  by Louis Reard (1897-1984).  He was by trade an automobile engineer and clothes designer. Reard was French, born in a period in which the nation was a colonial empire.   He took over his mother’s lingerie business in 1940. For that point he had to teach himself about designing clothes. One day going to St. Topaz he noticed women were attempting to get tans by rolling up the edges of their swimwear. Reard then got the idea that their should be a swim suit with the midriff exposed. There were other designers working on a swim suit similar to his. Jacques Heim produced what he called the “Atome” in 1946.  The name for the swim wear could have come from the South Pacific Bikini Atoll. There the US conducted tests for the first nuclear weapons. Using the name atome or bikini was a way of saying it was going to send shock waves. It appears there was not one creator. There were cases prior to 1946 in which had swimwear similar to the early bikini. There were two piece swim suits  that existed in classical antiquity.

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The new ‘Bikini’ swimming costume  Micheline Bernardini was the first to model in the modern bikini .
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Here Carrie Simmons poses in a bikini. Today bikini designs are more elaborate and colorful.

Some tile mosaics discovered from the period of Roman civilization show women wearing something similar to a bikini. At the very least these were two piece swim suits. If this early swim wear is to be counted as a bikini then it would technically be 1,7000 years old.  When examining the Villa Romana del Casale  it shows women exercising in what looks like bikinis. These mosaics are dated 300 AD. It was belived this was more comfortable exercising in than women’s standard wear during the classical period. At that time it did not cause a uproar. There are also archaeological finds in Anatolia ( modern Turkey) which show women in swim suits dated 5600 B.C.E  and also depict a mother goddess. Urns found from Greco-Roman civilization dated 1400 B.C.E also show women wearing bikini like garments. There is little information historians and archaeologist have on the opinions on the swim suits women wore. The level of acceptance or repudiation remains ambiguous given the limited information.  When the 20th century arrives then there was social resistance to the bikini . Religious groups and some feminist organizations. There were religious groups in the US who said it was immoral for a woman to display their body. Certain feminist organizations complained  that it objectified women. There were bikini contests that emerged and sometimes they were apart of beauty pageants. However, there were some cases in which beauty pageants banned the bikini. It was considered too lascivious for the more conservative public.

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Sales of the bikini performed better in France during the mid-20th century. It took the rest of the world awhile to catch up. The exposure of women’s navel caused controversy among some people. Modesty and the covering of the female body has been promoted in more conservative societies. The female body was either at times covered or confined under the supervision of male authority. The bikini for some women became a symbol of liberation from male control of their bodies. Kelly Bensimon  has said that it was a symbol of female expression. The former model and author of the Bikini Book  stated “it gave a lot of people confidence.” She describes the clothing’s appeal as “it celebrates all people athletes, models, dancers, and real people. Benismon says the bikini has stood the test of time mainly because it was associated with scandal. Gradually, society realized that there was nothing indecent about bikinis. It takes time for society to accept new ideas or things. Bikini23

When celebrities began wearing bikinis, it gained some acceptance. Actresses ad models began wearing them in glamour shots. This became common in the 1950s with movie stars such as Mirylin  Monroe and Ester Williams.  Celebrities like it or not are trend setters and continue to influence fashion styles. Celebrities had some freedom to navigate more strict social and cultural mores. The process was slow, but the bikini became more popular. Around the 1960s   the bikini sky rocketed in popularity among women. Mainly because certain bans on the swimwear were bring lifted. Italy, Portugal, Australia, and certain states in the US had either bans or certain restrictions directed at the bikini. The National League of Decency in the US was a culprit of not only banning clothing, but other forms of entertainment in their perspective was “profane.”   Groups like that could not survive the coming of the Sexual Revolution. The relations between the sexes changed, women were gaining reproductive rights,  and women found more liberation in having control of their sexual relationships. Sex was not seen as a negative thing or just for the sake of having children. It could be for the pleasure of both men and women. The result of this was that women’s bodies were no longer viewed as “indecent.” Women could wear what they wanted without causing a moral panic.

           Some have claimed that the evolution of swimwear correlated with women’s emancipation. The earlier swimwear was more confined and designed to restrict movement. This was common for women’s clothes throughout history, because it was once considered improper for women to be involved in physical activity. The rise of the sports bra for example was revolutionary, because it allowed women to compete in sports with comfort. Women with larger bust size may have been driven away from sport prior to its creation. The bikini made it so women became more confident in the display of their bodies. Oliver Saillard a history of fashion postulated the relation between the bikini and gender politics as this : “the power of women, not the power of fashion.” He delineates it as women imposing influence on something as a representation of women’s growing power in society. Women were no longer ashamed or afraid of their bodies. The bikini seemed to be a link in not just a political emancipation, but a social and cultural one. There is the counter argument that seeing as it was made by men, it is questionable whether or not it is liberating. Even with that fact  it seems women made the swimwear their own by becoming designers themselves and ushering in new styles.

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These are examples of swimwear from the late 19th century to early 20th century.
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The modern day bikini reveals more of the female figure.

The bikini would not just be worn by beach goers it would later find its way into women’s sports. This seemed like a natural progression, because women were entering the world of professional sports at the international and national level. It was clear that certain clothing would be brought with them.

The bikini also has been present in women’s sports. Beach volleyball, bodybuilding, and surfing. There some instances that track and field athletes have bikini bottoms. The most common association of the bikini with sport is with bodybuilding. Muscular women oil up and tan then pose in various contests. Female bodybuilding did evolve from bikini contests. These contests were more so modeled after beauty pageants because it did not emphasize muscle size, posing, shape, or definition. These were supplements to men’s events that rook place from the 1950s to mid-1970s. Women were entering sports in larger numbers during the early Title IX era and it was a matter of time that women demanded their own competitions. The Ms.Olympia contest (1980-2014) emerged and the National Amateur Bodybuilding Association (NBBA) allowed women to compete. There are some restrictions on what type of bikini can be worn. Women are forbidden to wear thongs or t back swimsuits in contests in America. The reason is that certain contests could be filmed for television and organizations rather not face an FCC fine. However, closed events allow it, because it will not be broadcast. Europe seems to be more liberal in this regard, while America is more conservative.

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Britt Miller poses in a thong. She could not get on stage with it if her contest she was in was being filmed for US television.
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Yeon’s bikini falls into proper regulations set by the IFBB.

Volleyball has made the bikini as its official uniform. It was 1994 that the bikini became the official uniform for the Women’s Olympic Volleyball team. Then in 1999 the International Volleyball Federation standardized it and made it a requirement for all women in volleyball. This does have some problems. Cold weather makes it uncomfortable for women to wear and women may object to the uniforms due to religious beliefs. There were changes in 2012 allowing shorts and sleeveless shirts. There a more criticisms about the bikini being the uniform. Some sports journalists say that it distracts attention away from the actual game and just puts emphasis on how attractive the women are, rather than their athletic talent.Feminists claim it objectifies athletes and diminishes the attention on their accomplishments. This may not be due to the clothing itself, but the institutional sexism that has been a part of sport since its birth. It is odd that some feminist critics never raise similar complaints about the bodybuilding sports. Although it appears athletes like the uniforms because it gives more free range in terms of movement , others experience discomfort. Chafing and constant fiddling with bikini bottoms can cause irritation.

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This problem can be solved by use of different fabrics  and adjusting the size of the bikini bottom itself. If the athletes enjoy using them as a uniform, they should remain. If it causes too much of a problem then women should bring it up as an issue. Gabrielle Reece had stated she was not content with the bikini uniform requirement, who preferred  her tights instead. Some athletes  believed that this was just done to make the uniforms look skimpier. The frustration can be understood, but other athletes in different sports have dissenting opinions. Female bodybuilders do embrace the scantily clad bikini and skimpy image, but present it in a radically different manner. They combined a new paradigm of beauty, while combining it with the older concepts of glamour. Added to that was power and grace of a posing routine. This made for a fascinating and eclectic mix of concepts.

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It is amazing to think that just a simple piece of clothing can cause such reactions. The bikini has been experimented with in track and field. Florence Griffith Joyner ushered in a style in which she used both bikini bottoms and one legged tights at the 1988 Olympics. It seemed as if Joyner got more attention for her clothing selection than her 200 meter event. There are some sports organizations that specifically ban the bikini bottom and demand athletes wear shorts instead. The West Asian Games implemented this policy in 2006. Running in a bikini top would be impractical, but the bikini bottom seems to make more sense. Shorts or long pants may cause more pressure added to wind resistance when running at high speeds. A study on this subject has not been conducted, but it is a possibility. The bikini is also a common form of sports wear in surfing. Sometimes women who compete in surfing also participate in bikini contests. There is controversy in this seeing as usually more money is offered for the bikini contest.

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 The bikini caused controversy with the general public and even in the sports world. Prior to the introduction in the sports arena, it was not seen as acceptable. Sports Illustrated changed this by featuring women in bikinis on its front cover 1964. Now, they have issues devoted to women in swim wear. The bikini later became the most popular piece of swim wear not just in the West, but globally.

         The 1960s and 1970s saw the bikini rise in popularity. With a golden age comes a decline. The bikini lost popularity in the 1980s. It’s original developer Reard died during that time and his company closed a couple of years after his death. Around the early 21st century there was a spike in sales again. The market was mostly teenage women and women over the age of 30. The sudden resurrection could be attributed to baby boomers increased interest in fitness. The desire to recapture youth  and improve their appearance. Baby boomers were thinking  that age was just a number. There was also a negative side to this. The concern was that the obsession with the bikini body would take a toll on women’s mental and physical health. Eating disorders or mental distress from body image was a problem growing among many young women. The bikini cannot be completely to blame for these developments. A conjecture could be that it was the product of a neoliberal capitalist consumer culture. It functions on people’s insecurities attempting to keep the public constantly buying products. Whatever  the root of the problem could be, the solution is not a simple one. The modern bikini has lasted some 70 years. Currently there are various types to choose from : sling bikini, string bikini, micro bikini, skirtiki,  bandeaukini, monokini, tankini, and trikini.

Further Reading

Westcott, Kathryn. “BBC NEWS | In Depth | The Bikini: Not a Brief Affair.”BBC News. BBC, 05 July 2006. Web. 23 June 2016. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/5130460.stm&gt;.

“Bikini.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 23 June 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bikini#cite_note-193&gt;.

Moos, Jeanne. “STYLE Bikini Blues — Beach Volleyball Makes the Swimsuit Standard.” CNN. Cable News Network, 13 Jan. 1999. Web. 23 June 2016. <http://www.cnn.com/STYLE/9901/13/vollyball.bikini/&gt;.

A History of the Bikini

National Hispanic Heritage Month and The Forgotten Latino Women in Sport

National Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the history and culture of one of America’s fastest growing ethnic groups. The celebration was first started in 1968. Then it was refered to as Hispanic Heritage Week. It was recognized through an act of legislation sponsored by Representative Estebon Torres (D). This was later expanded into a month in 1988. The date of  September 15th was chosen, because it was the time in which a number of Latin American states gained their independence. Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua declared independence in 1821. Mexico, Chile, and Belize would follow afterwords. The relevance to women in sports is an essential one. Latino women are becoming more visible in sports and this is a positive development. Unfortunately, the media gives an abnormal amount of attention to white women athletes. Here are some photographs that captures their contributions and successes.

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Marlen Esparza 

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Denise Masino 

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Brenda Villa 

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Yaxeni  Oriquen – Garcia 

1980: The Olympic Champion Maria Colon of Cuba in action during the Javelin event at an athletics meeting in Los Angeles, USA. Mandatory Credit: Tony Duffy/Allsport

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Maria Colon 

National Hispanic Heritage Month and The Forgotten Latino Women in Sport

The Ms.Olympia Contest (1980-2014)

The Ms.Olympia was one of the most prestigious female bodybuilding competitions held by the International Federation of Bodybuilders (IFBB). This contest displayed the most physically developed women athletes from around the world. As the years progressed the physiques became more muscular, more powerful, and more astounding than ever before. The women proved that they were capable of building impressive bodies, but this generated controversy. When the women got bigger traditionalists, detractors, and some within the fitness community objected to the new aesthetic.Opposition was not the only challenge, but limited financial resources. There were fans, but the audience shrank. Despite these obstacles the competitors performed with a high level of excellence.

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The Ms.Olympia contest was developed by Joe Weider and Ben Weider. These two businessmen built up an entire fitness industry empire. Their businesses consisted of supplement products, fitness magazines, and fitness equipment. Prior to the Weider brothers acquiring the rights to the MS.Olympia it was owned by George Snyder. He held in 1977  the first IFBB sanctioned contest known as The Best Contest in the World. This was the harbinger to the Ms.Olympia. It almost resembled a beauty pageant, rather than a bodybuilding contest. Athletes were selected and did not have to win other competitions to receive an invitation. Snyder would have contestants send in resumes and photos that he would review. If he thought they could be marketable to the public, they could compete. This was not much of a competition, but this changed by 1980.

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Joe Wieder with Lenda Murray 

Now female athletes could do the same poses men did. At first it was not allowed for women to do clenched fist poses or most muscular poses. It was once required that the women had to wear high heels.

       The first Ms. Olympia contest saw the rise of Rachel Mclish. Her physique was not the type that is seen today on stage. It was a sleeker, with modest muscle on her frame. Most competitors of the era were of this body type with some definition. Rachel Mclish got her athletic start working at a health club. Her early inspiration to engage in fitness came from seeing Lisa Lyon. She was one of the earlier pioneers of female bodybuilding. Mclish had a very short competitive career. It lasted from 1980 to 1984. She lost the 1981 Ms.Olympia to Kike Elomaa. The judging was inconsistent for these early contests and would continue to be through out the existence of the Ms.Olympia. The debate over overall appearance and size was an issue. Just how should the muscular female body be judged? The question became even more complicated when cultural perceptions of femininity were added to the discourse. Mclish won the 1982 Ms.Olympia, but another competitor Carla Dunlap was more muscular. Although not the largest competitor, Mclish did much to get female bodybuilding media attention.

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Three winners of the Ms.Olympia from left to right Rachel Mclish, Kike Eloma, and Carla Dunlap.

This was helpful in breaking down some negative perceptions. A golden age had began and there was no turning back. As the decades progressed competitors would train harder and push their bodies to the maximum.

       Carla Dunlap was the first African American Ms.Olympia. This was significant because black women were not given as much recognition for athletic accomplishments. Besides that achievement, Carla’s physique produced another model. It was a body a bit bigger than other competitors. While being a little larger, she managed to present symmetry that the judges were looking for. This could be considered the stage in which women started to push the size barrier.

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Magazine page discussing Carla’s 1983 win.

Her competitive career lasted from 1979 to 1993. She had amazing longevity in the bodybuilding circuit. Besides doing bodybuilding she also did color commentary for ESPN, ABC, and NBC. She also has the distinction of being the only female bodybuilder to compete for three decades. She was there from the beginning and saw many changes. More developments were coming with the arrival of two competitors who decided the aesthetic need revision.

       Cory Everson  and Bev Francis shifted the paradigm for the Ms.Olympia physique. Cory Everson was the first woman to win the Ms.Olympia multiple times. From 1984 to 1989 she would dominate the competition. The 1980s was the era of Everson. She never lost an Olympia contest during her career. One reason was her extensive athletic background in track and field, gymnastics, and badminton. These activities allowed her to build a muscular physique. Bodybuilding was perfect for her and she saw rapid success. Her body had defined muscles, along with bigger size closer to Carla Dunlap, and powerful legs. It seemed as if women were no longer afraid of getting “too big.” Women who were even involved in the sport had their fears about this. Cory Everson demonstrated that women can have muscle and will not be considered “too big.” Bev Francis pushed  the model further.

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Cory Everson never lost an Olympia.

Bev Francis was an Australian shout putter and powerlifter. Before entering bodybuilding she set world records in powerlifting. At the 1981 World Powerlifting Championships she bench pressed 330 pounds. She was the first woman to accomplish this feat. Her body was naturally muscular and one would have assumed she would have won contests. The judges did not like her physique, even though it was impressive. They were concerned about vague definitions of femininity in the judging standards. Clearly they were misguided by traditional convictions about women. Bev Francis was a fan favorite and was popular at contests. She attempted to conform to the judges standards and found herself getting frustrated. She lost some size and dyed her hair blonde. This did not guarantee her victory. After a while she refused to conform and decided to go all out for muscle size. It was no longer about winning a contest. As Bev once stated “I wanted to show them just how muscular a woman could be.”

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Bev Francis change in appearance from 1983 to 1988. 

This was a bold move, considering the criticism she faced. She did pioneer the larger physique that would later appear in the 1990s. After being disappointed with her placing in the 1990 Ms. Olympia, Bev decided to build a physique more tremendous than anything any fan had seen before. Lenda Murray would win her first in a long list of victories in the Ms.Olympia. Most important development was that their was a paradigm shift among competitors. Women competing were no longer afraid of having large muscles.

        The 1991 Ms.Olympia was a major turning point. The issue of women and muscle size seemed to have created two major factions in female bodybuilding. The first was the one that wanted women with some muscle, but emphasizing “femininity.” It seemed to want to make it a beauty pageant with women in moderately good shape. The opposing side wanted to be strictly about athletic endeavor and muscular size.

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The muscle size issue has been debated through out female bodybuilding circles since its inception. This magazine page is from the 1980s.

Bev Francis lost again, but amazed the audience. She was bigger than any woman the crowd had ever seen. Lenda Murray was back to defend her tile and won. The competitors were much larger than they had been in the past. The female bodybuilding physique was becoming more powerful. The question of “how much is too much?” was seriously brought up within the sport after the 1991 Ms.Olympia. Bev Francis retired from the sport, but had a lasting impact. She proved that women could build large muscle and be good at it. As the years progressed her physique would be more common on stage.

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Bev Francis competing in the 1991 Ms.Olympia.

Her competition was challenging, because Lenda Murray also was coming into the contest bigger. Lenda’s body would also serve as model for which competitors would be judged. Large upper body combined with a small waist was the aesthetic. Many competitors became frustrated with inconsistent judging standards. Vacillation and indecision hindered a standard judging criteria. Bev Francis dared to defy the hegemony of IFBB judging criteria and made her body as muscular as possible.

The routine that changed everything.  

Even though Bev Francis did not win the Ms.Olympia, she was one of the best bodybuilders . The 1990s would progress producing more high quality athletes.

       Lenda Murray would be a dominant  force in the 1990s and even into the early 2000s. There were formidable challengers to her title.From 1990 to 1995 she would decimate the competition. Her physique had an hour glass like figure packed with large muscles. A highly developed lower body and a developed upper body gave her an edge on competition. Her posing and grace made her very popular among the Olympia attendees. She became highly regarded in the fitness community and broke Cory Everson’s record. Lenda did something that was not done before.

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Lenda Murray set a record for Olympia wins. 

Competitors like Lenda, were getting bigger. Fans who opposed the new aesthetic defected to developing fitness contests. Fitness contests involved women performing gymnastics and doing some posing in swim suits. Critics claimed that this was way to limit the exposure of larger women competing. Others claimed that it was another option for women who had difficulty acquiring muscle size. Some believed it was a reactionary backlash against women’s advancement in the sport. It was not as if women were awful at bodybuilding, it was that they were too good at it. Traditionalists and people with one dimensional perspectives on what women should be or do decided to stop the progression. Bodybuilding became the only sport in which women were judged on “femininity.” This double standard exposed the blatant sexism that exists in the sport. Men were never subject to judging criteria on masculinity. As vague and ludicrous as these demands were the women continued to perform. Lenda Murray was able to balance these often unreasonable requests. Every year to her admission it became more challenging to present a body the judges were looking for.

        Lenda Murray soon confronted a challenger that would dethrone her. Kim Chizevsky brought in a body of massive size, definition, and impressive symmetry. Her body looked like a living statue. She would be Ms.Olympia from 1996 to 1999. She was the first to win the Ms.International and Ms.Olympia in the same year. At her most muscular she was an incredible 157 pounds in competition in 1997. She was one of the best bodybuilders. The bodybuilding category was facing some issues by the late 1990s. Fitness competitions were becoming more popular. Chizevsky despite her victories was still frustrated with the judging standards. After the 1999 Ms.Olympia, Kim decided to retire from bodybuilding. It seemed also that women were defecting to the fitness category. Kim Chizevsky even came out of retirement to compete in the fitness category( subsequently in figure as well).

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This change in category seems to parallel the Bev Francis situation.  

Women were not being supported. The prize money for women competitors was lower than that of their male counterparts. Even promoters and heads of the fitness industry were not supportive of these talented athletes. Ben Weider seemed to differ with his brother in terms of the bodybuilding aesthetic form women. Ben held the extreme traditionalist perspective that women should not build strength to a maximum, but limit themselves in a manner that is acceptable to standard gender roles. Joe Weider seemed to have a more tolerant view of the female bodybuilder.The environment was hostile to the women in general.

A summery and evolution of female bodybuilding from the 1980s to early 2000s. Ben Weider’s comments reveal a subtle sexism that is present in the fitness industry.

Many people said the women were too big. Some blamed the use of performance enhancing drugs or women’s lack of conventional beauty. Questions of beauty seemed irrelevant seeing as these were athletic competitions not beauty pageants. The issue of performance enhancing drugs became more of a problem, when the Weiders attempted to make bodybuilding an Olympic sport. That required to be more conscious about what substances athletes used. No sport is completely drug free, but bodybuilding has a reputation for anabolic steroid use. This image was something the Weiders attempted dismantle, but were unsuccessful. Presently, it seems very unlikely that bodybuilding would become an Olympic sport. Steroids do not make champions and to say that was the only reason for women’s advance is ludicrous. Without correct training and diet one could not progress far in this sport . The another development that added to questions of looks was the introduction of figure. Figure was different from fitness in the sense that women needed to be slightly more muscular. Gymnastic routines were not required. It was a better alternative to women who could not achieve the size of a Ms.Olympia champion.

        The rule changes were at times erratic. The judgement on femininity was officially put in place by 1992. The next major change was in the year 2000. Contestants now were judged on their make-up, face, and skin tone. They needed to have a “healthy” appearance.  Weight classes were introduced for the first time. Competitors were still encouraged to not be “too extreme.” This like other elements of the sport are subjective. What is extreme for another person may seem normal for others. Men did not have to worry about being too big or standards of attractiveness. It was clear that the atmosphere was not welcoming to women competitors. Even with this level of double standards, the women performed even better. Andrulla Blanchette would win the lightweight class, while Valentina Chepiga took the heavyweights.

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This was the only year there was no overall winner, but two Ms.Olympia champions in different weight categories. 

The development of weight class may not have been a negative change. It did give women with a relatively smaller build to remain competitive. Juliette Bergmann was able to compete in the lightweight category with more success. Before she took the overall tile in the 2001 Ms.Olympia. Dayana Cadeau  would also see victory in the lightweight class in 2004. Even when she did not win, in most of her competitions she placed in the top three. Lenda Murray would return winning both the 2002 and 2003 Ms.Olympia. She would lose to Iris Kyle who would dominate the Ms.Olympia to the end.

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The two lightweight category champions Dayana Cadeau and Juliette Bergmann.

Iris Kyle was the best Ms.Olympia and the number of wins is evidence. She broke both Lenda Murray’s record and Cory Everson’s record. She has to be one of the most successful bodybuilders. She did have formidable opponents. First Lenda Murray was a challenge and after two tries she defeated her in 2004. Iris Kyle then lost in 2005 to Yaxeni Oriquen Garcia who also was a very accomplished competitor. Her competitive longevity was a useful asset. Learning from other competitions she improved her training methods to be the 2005 Ms.Olympia.

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Two great champions Iris Kyle and Yaxeni Oriquen Garcia.

However, Iris Kyle would be resurgent and would continue to win until the last Ms.Olympia in 2014. This is an example of a remarkable athletic career. Yet, like her other women she was not given praise for her accomplishments.

      The problem with the Ms.Olympia contest was that the Weiders did not attempt to market it as much as the Mr.Olympia. There were financial issues due to low ticket sales. The 1999 Ms.Olympia was nearly cancelled. Flex Magazine donated funds to the contest and it went ahead as scheduled. Just like other sports men were paid more, but in the bodybuilding community the wage gap was egregious. The Weider fitness empire was worth billions by the 2000s. It is odd that pay could not be adjusted for women athletes. The Weider brothers may have thought that muscular women were not marketable. This argument lacks cogency, because there were fans who would pay to access sites devoted to a particular athlete. Female bodybuilders by the 2000s began making members web sites with exclusive content. This was very helpful, because it provided extra funds that would go directly to the athletes. It seems like it was a lost business opportunity that Weiders missed out on.

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Joe and Ben Weider did much to promote women’s bodybuilding, but did not give it the same respect as the men’s.

The Weider publishing empire was still functioning on the model “sex sells.” Readers they believed did not care about a woman’s athletic performance, but appearance. Ms.Olympia was regulated to a secondary status next to fitness competitions. It is uncertain what the latest effect physique competitions will have. This is a new category and the women are more muscular than figure competitors. It could easily be mistaken for lightweight bodybuilding. Some say that the disappearance of the Ms.Olympia signals the death of female bodybuilding.

       It was announced that there would no longer be a Ms.Olympia in 2015. This was a major shock for fans and supporters. The Ms.Olympia contest was an important part of women’s sports history. It was the sport that developed during the second wave feminist movement and early Title IX era. The contest showed just how far the female body could be developed. Athletes performed magnificently under societal pressure, ostracism, and prejudice. Although there is no more Ms.Olympia, muscular women will not be disappearing anytime soon. There is another professional contest opened to athletes known as The Wings of Strength. This looks like a successor, but it will never be anything like the Ms.Olympia.

The Ms.Olympia Contest (1980-2014)

The Sports Bra

The sports bra is a pivotal piece of exercise attire. It is designed to provide support for the breast during physical activity. The reason this clothing is important is it allows women to perform certain physical task with maximum comfort. The sports bra protects particular chest ligaments. The creation of the sports bra was liberating, because it allowed women to engage in physical activity without pain to a particular part of the chest. Women who played sports had to wear the clothing designed for a male body. Other women began designing clothing best suited for the female form.

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One of the first sports bras appeared around 1975. It was known as the free swing tennis bra and was produced by Glamorise Foundations Incorporated. Another version appeared in 1977. This jock bra as it was called had been developed by Lisa Lindahl. Hinda Miller made further adjustments to the prototypical clothing. The reason it was called the jock bra was because Miller sewed jock straps together to form  a firmer bra. This ignited a 30 million dollar industry Eventually the jock bra would be renamed the jog bra. Around 1990 Playtex purchased the jog bra brand. Gradually, this became a popular piece of clothing among women athletes and physically active women. Women who have larger breasts would no longer have to be concerned about discomfort. Women with smaller size breasts still can feel discomfort as well. Breasts are mostly fat tissue and can vary in weight.

The appearance of the sports bra can look like a tank top. Compressed bras are designed to reduce as much movement while keeping the breasts closer to the chest. Another design is known as encapsulation. Cups within the bra surround the breasts as a way to reduce the movement. Having this understanding of kinematics allow designers to make bra best suited for a woman’s body. Many women still report some level  of pain in this area of the body, even with a sports bra. This proves that some bras are constructed better than others.

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A sports bra can look like a common tank top.

There are different levels of control that sports bras offer. This is dependent on the level of intensity of physical activity.

      There are physical activities that the sports bra is most useful. Jogging is the first activity that would cause movement of the breasts. This would be an activity that requires firm control. Moderate control would be necessary for biking, hiking, and power walking. Moderate control. Maximum control is required for activities such as rigorous workouts, boxing, and horseback riding. Yoga and walking require the least amount of control during physical activity. The idea is to have the maximum amount of comfort and reduce the potential for injury. Injury is a major threat to any athlete. Doing constant physical feats almost makes it unavoidable. However, this risk is reduced by this clothing. Just like the jock strap and athletic cup is critical for men the sports bra is just as pivotal for women.

      Although the application of the sports bra is for practical reasons, it has become a fashion statement. It is a common part of workout attire for athlete and non-athlete. This is mainly because particular clothing companies took notice of women’s expanding participation in fitness and sports. Nike for example has been producing various exercise clothing lines for women. A new market has made the production of sports bras a million dollar industry. Women’s participation in athletic activities contributed to a particular industry. It is amazing to think that a piece of clothing could have such an impact.

Further Reading

Mary, Sue. Winning Ways: A History of American Women in Sport. New York : Henry Holt

      and Company, 1996.

“Sports bra.” Wikipedia the Free Encyclopedia 2010. Jun. 6 2015

       <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sports_bra&gt;.

The Sports Bra