I’ve had rash guards on my brain recently. I was bummed to have missed out on the Juliet rashguard offered on BJJHQ.com from Pony Club Grappling Gear, though my credit card was happy with that! I also recently purchased two Meerkatsu rashies: the white tiger and the Phoenix.

More than that, though, was the question of whether women should wear rash guards or not. A while back, someone left this comment, asking about a new woman’s behavior related to dress :

We have a new girl at our gym who wears just sports bras. She will change before class, which consists of standing next to the mat, stripping down to a sports bra and then putting on her gi. A few days ago she showed up to a no gi class and decided to participate… in just the sports bra.
Admittedly she has a wonderful body but as another female in the class, I hear a lot of grumbling about it and I want to kindly talk to her but I’m not sure where to start, or how to politely ask her to put on some clothing. It’s hard enough being a woman on the mats, I’ve worked hard to get to ‘one of the guys’ status and I’d really prefer not to have her walking around as a reminder that yes, indeed I am a female with my legs wrapped around you. I just don’t need the guys in that mindset when we’re starting class :(
Am I overreacting here, should I simply continue keeping my mouth shut and ignoring it? Has anyone experienced something similar, how did you deal with it?

I posed this question over on a Women’s Grappling Network on Facebook, and there was a wonderful and lively debate/argument/conversation about it.

One of my favorite things about having this blog and being part of women’s BJJ groups is that it gives me a chance to think about the different facets of an issue. I love examining the gray areas and I often find my thinking changes, or that it was irrational. Here are my jumbled thoughts and experiences.

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” – Walt Whitman

In my first month in BJJ, one single time I wore a sports bra only. We practiced moves where you had to stuff the gi into the partner’s armpits. I felt insanely uncomfortable because it felt like my top was being ripped open and boom there was me in my bra. I also realized that my cleavage was massive and I felt incredibly self conscious knowing I was Cleavage Gal. Last year I realized I’d lost enough weight that I was no longer Cleavage Gal. I wore a sports top – like a tank top with a bra shelf built in. I had my partner in side control and was pushing him with my torso. Then I realized my body was moving and the top was staying still. Had I continued my course of action, I would have had a boob pop out. Lovely.

When I see Cleavage Gal wearing only a sports bra, I feel uncomfortable? distracted? overly aware? Not because I think cleavage is bad, but because I do consider it something mildly sexual/sexy. It also immediately makes me think “Dang it – why are sports bras cut so damn low?” I feel uncomfortable because when I go on the mats I want to just think about jiu jitsu – not about your awesome looking cleavage, and if you do get on top of me, I don’t want a face full of cleavage.

Most of the images I see of women competing has them in only a sports bra, and there’s nothing inherently sexual or sexy about that.

It’s really not cool to have a double standard and require women wear rash guards when men are going bare chested. It’s saying “Women’s bodies are inherently sexual, while men’s are not,” and that’s not true or fair. Skin does not equal sexiness. Then I start thinking about Ab Man, Cleavage Gal’s partner in crime. When Ab Man doesn’t wear a rash guard, it is simultaneously the best and worst things ever. Hey, I know – how about only super hot folks wear rash guards. Wait – that doesn’t really work.

I made this!

I made this!

I wear a rash guard every single time because I want to focus on BJJ and not worry about a clothing fail. I think that everyone, men and women, should wear rash guards. I also think that if a gym lets Ab Man train bare chested, that Cleavage Gal should be able to train in only a sports bra. If the dudes (or cleavage-loving ladies) are super distracted by Cleavage Gal, I guarantee that the ladies (or some ab-loving dudes) are equally distracted by Ab Man.

“BJJ is to women, what hot yoga is to men.” — seen on Reddit

I don’t believe we should police one another’s bodies or fashion sense. We can’t change that we were born with certain amounts of hair, and we can’t immediately change the amount of fat we have on that body. But at the same time, given that Jiu Jitsu is a super-high-contact sport, keeping that space absolutely neutral is important. People deserve to train in sexual – free zones. We can create a slightly more professional atmosphere. Let’s keep Cleavage Gal and Ab Man undercover.

Charles Smith posted a simple graphic called “Keep it Covered, Keep it Classy.”

Cover everything from the neck to the knees and elbows.
No cleavage
No arm pits
No shoes

Jiu Jiu’s Question: What “undercover” policies does your gym have? Are rash guards required? Ladies – do you wear a sports bra only, or a rash guard? What are your thoughts on this matter?