Controversy over women's beach volleyball bikinis

Women’s beach volleyball is a hugely popular Olympic sport.  This year, however, some controversy has centered on the tiny bikinis that are the uniforms for many in the sport.

Editor's Note: Click here to watch Lauren Leamanczyk's report.

MINNEAPOLIS - Women’s beach volleyball is a hugely popular Olympic sport. This year, however, some controversy has centered on the tiny bikinis that are the uniforms for many in the sport.

Kerri Walsh Jennings has fired back against the critics who say the uniforms objectify women. She says the swim suits are about comfort and tradition. They are more about performance than looks.

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Until 2012, women were required to wear bikinis in Olympic competition. Men are required to wear sleeveless tank tops and shorts.

But before the London Olympics, the rules were loosened to allow women to wear shorts and sleeves. This year an Egyptian volleyball player participated wearing a hijab.

Dr. Beth Lewis studies women in sports at the University of Minnesota. She says the controversy over the uniforms has more to do with society than with the athletes.

“We still have this long tradition of this objectification of women and their bodies and so on and I think you naturally get that focus happening,” she said.

Lewis says topics of what women wear and how they are portrayed in media are common in her classes and discussions. She points to the photos and camera angles that seem to focus more on the female volleyball players’ form.

For instance, she explains studies have revealed that when male athletes are pictured in media, two thirds of the time they are shown actually playing their sport. In contrast, female athletes portrayed in media are often shown posing. Only one third of the images portrayed them in action.

“There's a huge discrepancy in terms of how they're pictured and how their athleticism is depicted and emphasized for the women versus the men,” she said.

At Theodore Wirth Park Tuesday night, beach volleyball games were underway and no one donned a two-piece. The women playing, however, say Olympians have every right to wear what makes them feel comfortable.

“I think it's just functional to wear the tight gear,” said Hillary Rotunda, a former college volleyball player.

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Her teammate, Jessica Neuman, agreed but said she has noticed how her male friends talk about the women Olympians.

“I have a lot of friends who are like 'Yes, women's volleyball. They wear the skimpy clothes and the swimsuit.' And it definitely does, I think, rub women the wrong way,” she said.