Natalie Wojcik speaks out against leotard objectification — Other gym news
The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Lela Moore, Feb. 18, 2023
Natalie Wojcik of Michigan (whom I also interviewed this week for Five at the IX, see below!) posted this TikTok Monday, three days after scoring a perfect 10 on beam for Michigan in their meet against Minnesota:
Wojcik’s TikTok shows a video from ESPNU, which broadcast the meet, of her beam routine overlaid by several comments off the ESPN app that were not about her accomplishment, but rather about her leotard. Specifically, they were saying that the leotard did not look good on Wojcik’s body.
I mentioned this when I wrote about Livvy Dunne last fall, but having your work uniform sexualized is a particularly gross form of harassment aimed at female athletes.
Lauren Fleshman, a former professional runner, just published a book called Good for a Girl (part memoir, part treatise about the the state of women’s sports in 2023, fully a must-read for any athlete who identifies as female or anyone who knows one). Fleshman writes in the book about the “buns” — effectively, a spandex bikini bottom — that many collegiate and pro female runners wear in competition. In an interview with NPR about her book on Jan. 10, Fleshman said, “If there was a true sports advantage to wearing the outfit that female athletes are bound, by rules even, to wear in sport, male athletes would do it, too.”
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Fleshman also writes in her book that many uniforms in women’s sports were designed to set them apart from men’s sports, “to assuage fears that sport and femininity were at odds.” And also that many were designed so the audience would have something to look at besides, presumably, the female athlete’s actual performance — Fleshman calls it “entertainment consolation.”
Most women’s gymnastics fans need no entertainment consolation. Certainly, no one should have needed it watching Wojcik, a master of her craft, score a perfect 10 on beam. “It’s just another day at the office for her,” a commentator on ESPNU said during the broadcast of that routine, unintentionally reinforcing the idea that Wojcik was doing her job as a student athlete in the uniform given to her.
Most female collegiate athletes are between 18-22 years old, but many, including Wojcik, are pushing that number higher because they are returning to the sport to complete a fifth year of eligibility to replace one largely lost to the pandemic.
As Fleshman noted in her book, women in this age range are fighting biology to stay in competitive shape. And gymnastics is also hampered by the perception of many that it is a children’s sport. As Wojcik says in response to a TikTok commenter who notes that while the women in gymnastics get older, the leotards stay the same age (i.e., they are cut for children’s straighter bodies), “I am a 23-year-old woman! My body is different than when I was a kid.”
A changing body is normal. A leotard, most would argue, is not normal, but it is the standard uniform of gymnasts. And the gymnasts do not always get to choose what they wear, nor are the uniforms always custom-fit to their bodies (or, even if they once were, they may not fit the same way two or three years later). Be mindful when watching women do gymnastics that there are many different forces at work regarding their bodies, the way those bodies move, and what they are (for now) required to clothe them in.
Wojcik captioned her TikTok, in part, “Being a woman in sports is hard sometimes.” But we would prefer that the difficulty come from the actual sport, and not in listening to anonymous commenters dissect an athlete’s physique.
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Other gym news
— I would be remiss not to comment on the judging discussion that took the gymternet by storm this week. I opted to devote the space above to the issues raised by Wojcik because I saw less about it, and I’ve seen many great takes on the judging issues, including here and here and here and here.
The issue is that we saw many judging splits last week that were larger than usual, reflecting some kind of…disagreement, some might say, or watching completely different things, others might say, over what was actually performed by the gymnast.
Florida’s Chloi Clark, whose vault last Friday was the subject of a particularly egregious judging split, made a TikTok about it.
When the athletes’ well-being is this affected by these judging calls, perhaps it really is time to take an assessment of who is judging and how.
— Scott Reid of the Orange County Register broke the news this week that Al Fong, elite coach of Leanne Wong, Kara Eaker, Aleah Finnegan, and many other star gymnasts over the past four decades, is under SafeSport investigation. Forty (!) gymnasts have alleged abuse by Fong, Reid writes.
— Grace McCallum hyperextended her knee on vault during last weekend’s Metroplex meet. At press time, no official statement had been made that she was out for the season, though her teammate Maile O’Keefe had said that during a post-Metroplex press conference. We wish McCallum a speedy, healthy recovery.
— The Daily Bruin wrote a lovely story about the bond between UCLA senior Margzetta Frazier and her sister, Cal freshman eMjae, ahead of today’s UCLA-Cal showdown in Berkeley.
— Lynnzee Brown made her first appearance in Denver’s floor lineup since tearing her Achilles last season. We love to see it.
— Gracie Kramer was Martha Stewart’s body double for a Skechers ad that aired during the Super Bowl. She tore her Achilles in the process of making it!
— Laurie Hernandez and Charlotte Drury appeared in a Valentine’s Day campaign for Nike.
— Savannah Schoenherr has broken 20 bones in her life. She tells you all about them on TikTok.
— Olivia Greaves is back on bars in the Auburn gym, less than six months after her knee surgery.
— Kim Bui of Germany spoke on Instagram about having an eating disorder during her competitive career.
— Dvora Meyers wrote a fantastic article about Torrance York, a.k.a. The Very Young Gymnast. IYKYK.
— Simone Biles casually flipping around, as you do. IS SHE BACK?
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Five at The IX: Natalie Wojcik
Natalie Wojcik, 23, is in her fifth year on the University of Michigan’s gymnastics team and serves as team captain. She won the 2022 AAI award, known as the Heisman Trophy of women’s gymnastics. Wojcik is a graduate student completing a master’s in social work at Michigan. She received her undergraduate degree from Michigan in 2022 as a triple (!) major in Spanish, linguistics and psychology. Wojcik was on Michigan’s 2021 NCAA Championship squad. She was the NCAA beam champion in 2019. She set a record as the Michigan gymnast most often named Big Ten Gymnast of the Week — 15 times! — and tied the Michigan all-around record with a 39.825 in 2022. I reached out to Wojcik after I saw her TikTok criticizing people who make comments about leotards instead of routines, which I hope you read before scrolling down here. She now holds the record for Fastest Confirmed Interview for The IX — we got this moving in less than a half hour. This interview has been edited for clarity.
I promised only one heavy question, so here goes: You made a TikTok this week letting people know how discouraging it is for gymnasts to see body-shaming comments when they share videos of their athletic accomplishments, and it’s getting a lot of traction. What prompted you to make the video and what do you want people who see it to learn from it?
Wojcik: After I received my 10.0 on beam last week, the video of my routine was posted on a few social media accounts with very large followings (260,000, 880,000, and 41.5 million, just to name a few). While I received an abundance of kind and supportive comments that I am very grateful for, I also noticed several comments sexualizing and objectifying my body.
Rather than tearing those commenters down, I really wanted to focus on the bigger picture. My responses on social media and the Tiktoks I made in the days that followed highlight women’s empowerment, treating female athletes with respect, and being kind. My three younger sisters are gymnasts and I have met thousands of young fans who look up to me, so my inspiration and courage to speak up on this issue comes from them. My hope is that by sharing my experiences, young female athletes can grow up in a world where they are not shamed for competing in sports.
Here are a few of the comments I put on Twitter:
What is next for you after this, your final gymnastics season at Michigan? Will you move on from the sport, or do you want to stay in it in any way?
Wojcik: I am working towards receiving my master’s in social work in management & leadership, and will graduate this December. My goal is to work in a college athletics administration, and my dream job is to be an athletic director! In terms of staying involved with gymnastics, I absolutely love coaching camps, and I am planning on taking my judging exam in the next couple of years.
What is your favorite thing about Michigan (either the university or the state) that people don’t necessarily know about?
Wojcik: My favorite thing about The University of Michigan is the pride that everyone has for the school. We have the largest living alumni network in the world, and I have witnessed this firsthand, hearing “Go Blue!” in every state I have traveled to, and even while visiting England, Germany and Peru!
What is your favorite skill to perform, and what is your favorite apparatus to compete on?
NW: My favorite skill to perform is a Deltchev on bars, and my favorite event to compete on is balance beam.
You are creating a Natalie Woijik leotard. What does that look like?
NW: My ideal leotard would have a symmetrical design, lots of sparkles, and be purple — my favorite color!
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