A high school swimmer from Anchorage, Alaska, was disqualified after winning a heat on Friday because the referee decided that her team-issued uniform was too revealing.
Local news station KTUU reported that Breckynn Willis, a championship swimmer for Dimond High School, soundly beat her competition in a heat for the 100m freestyle.
But when she got out of the pool, Willis was told she’d been disqualified because she’d broken a rule about bathing suit modesty — her suit had ridden up in the back.
Lauren Langford, the coach for a rival high school swim team, called it a “suit wedgie.” And Langford believes that the disqualification, which has reverberated through the community, happened because Willis is bigger than some of the other girls.
“All of these girls are all wearing suits that are cut the same way,” Langford told the Washington Post.
“And the only girl who gets disqualified is a mixed-race girl with rounder, curvier features.”
Rule about bathing suit modesty
Willis is known around the community as a talented swimmer who could go on to compete in college. She has an athletic build and has been strength training to enhance her swimming.
The rule that Willis violated is about bathing suit modesty, but the focus is on teenagers who intentionally wear their suits to show more skin.
The National Federation of State High School Associations sent out a memo on August 7 that explained that teenagers can now be disqualified from races if their suit is not within guidelines.
"There is a growing trend in high school swimming and diving of athletes wearing training and competitive suits in a manner that contradicts with the intention of their original design and manufacture,” the memo said.
“Specifically, suits are being worn in such a way as to expose the athlete’s buttocks. This issue is not gender-specific and is occurring in various states across the country."
The new guideline clarified that “boys shall wear suits which cover the buttocks, and girls shall wear suits which cover the buttocks and breasts,” and included an illustration.
The rule specifically deals with teenagers intentionally adjusting their suits to show more skin, and not accidental suit wedgies that happen while swimming.
The referee, who apparently didn’t take the accidental nature of Willis’ suit wedgie into account, has not been officially identified.
Referee in previous controversies
According to the Anchorage Daily News, a woman working as an official at the meet attempted to tell the referee that her decision to disqualify Willis was going to “blow up.” The referee reportedly responded that the suit “was so far up I could see butt cheek touching butt cheek.’’
But this referee has a history with this family — and a history of body shaming.
During a meet last year, the same referee embarrassed Willis’ sister, Dreamer Kowatch, by openly criticising the fit of her team-issued suit.
Langford told the Post that even parents have made Willis feel embarrassed and self-conscious about her size when she’s wearing her swimsuit.
Her disqualification is just another example of body-shaming, since she was accused of intentionally adjusting her suit to be more revealing, without zero chance of changing the official’s mind.
The quick decision behind the DQ stemmed from her body type, and the fact that she’d swam a race just moments earlier.
Willis’ mother, Meagan Kowatch told KTUU over the weekend that she’d like her daughter’s disqualification overturned, her victory restored, and for the offending referee to be excluded from officiating any of Breckynn’s or Dreamer’s races again.
The Anchorage School District has launched an investigation into what they’re calling “a difference of opinion in the interpretation of the rules governing high school swim uniforms.”
They have not released a timeline for when the investigation will be complete.
Tennis champion and longtime women's rights activist Billie Jean King criticised the decision to disqualify the swimmer.
King tweeted Tuesday: "One of Alaska's top swimmers who had just won her race was disqualified by a ref because of how her school-issued swimsuit fit her body.
“The constant policing of women's bodies is offensive, sexist, and wrong. This must end."
One of Alaska’s top swimmers who had just won her race was disqualified by a ref because of how her school-issued swimsuit fit her body. The constant policing of women’s bodies is offensive, sexist, and wrong. This must end. https://t.co/DwzvOSiqLz— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) September 10, 2019
with Yahoo Sports and AP