Malaysian Gymnast Criticized for Wearing Leotard

Posted: Jun 21, 2015 10:00 AM

Farah Ann Abdul Hadi is a Malaysian gymnast who recently won six medals (including two golds) at the SEA Games. Normally, this would be a joyful occasion for a country that isn't exactly known as a gymnastics powerhouse, but Hadi is in the news for a different reason. A photo of her posted by a Malaysian news station led to massive criticism from religious clerics, sports officials, and ordinary Malaysians who were horrified by the fact that she was...wearing a leotard.

As Hadi is a Muslim, the criticism centered on the fact that her leotard revealed her "aurat," an Arabic word referring to a woman's thighs and genitalia that must be covered under Islamic code. From The Telegraph:

Cleric Harussani Zakaria told one local paper: “Gymnastics is not for Muslim women. It is clear that exposing one's aurat and the shape of one's body is haram (forbidden in Islam).

“If Muslim women want to participate in gymnastics, they have to find outfits which cover the aurat and this, in turn, might not be suitable for the sport.”

He added that Muslim men wear shorts that cover their knees during football, and Muslim women should make similar concessions.

Roszida Kamaruddin, head of the female wing of the National Muslim Youth Association, added: “Women should not be stopped from sports, but they must prioritise the Islamic codes in sports.

Granted, Hadi does have her defenders: Malaysia's minister of sports and youth tweeted his support, saying that only the almighty can judge her attire, not the general public. He also said that it was sexist for people to get upset over a woman wearing a leotard, yet remain silent over men wearing speedos while swimming in competition.

It's crazy to think that in 2015 a woman could be harshly criticized for wearing a uniform appropriate for the sport she's competing in. Hadi is a beautiful and talented gymnast who shouldn't be afraid of what her countrymen think of her uniform. Furthermore, her leotard was hardly scandalous--it was a standard competition leotard. Gymnasts compete and train in leotards because they permit the body to move more freely. A gymnast forced to wear baggy shorts would be put at a significant disadvantage to her peers. It's silly.

While it's remarkable how far women have come in parts of the world, it's important to remember that some countries still have a ways to go.