Inside the Disturbing Subreddit That Sexualizes Photos of Olympic Women

The popular “Oh-lympics” subreddit is dedicated to sexual images of elite athletes.
July 28, 2021, 4:55am
tokyo 2020, olympics, sports, uniform, sexism, sexualizing
In beach volleyball, women are expected to wear bikini bottoms. Photo: ANGELA WEISS / AFP

The seemingly Olympics-focused subreddit dubbed Oh-lympics is into many sports. Every half hour or so, users post new photos to the message board featuring athletes from events as varied as running, volleyball, water polo, gymnastics, swimming, diving.

But what the subreddit’s 215,000 subscribers are truly interested in has little to do with sports, or even the Olympics, for that matter. Among the photos are athletes’ breasts, slipped out during a swimsuit mishap. Others focus on the crotches and butts of female Olympians while they’re stretching, competing, or just taking a break.

“Can’t wait for all the jiggly T&F asses starting Friday,” reads a Tuesday post, accompanying a video of a female track-and-field athlete adjusting her bikini-style bottom.

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There’s also “Volleyball Girls,” a page where images of female volleyball players are posted with sexually suggestive captions and comments. Above a photo of a player on the ground with her legs in the air, one user wrote he wished he could have sex with her “in this position.” In another post, a group photo of players was captioned “take your pick.”

The disturbing subreddit has 172,000 followers, three times as many as the volleyball community where the actual sport is discussed. Two other subreddits with a combined 125,000 subscribers are dedicated to “sexy female athletes” and “beautiful college athletes.” One thing that’s conspicuously absent from all these pages is photos of men.

These popular subreddits highlight a pervasive culture of objectifying women in sports, something that’s made worse by tight-fitting clothing, like bikini bottoms, that only women are required to wear.

Despite the Tokyo Olympics being a landmark for gender equality—it’s the first time as many women are competing in the games as men—some say female athletes’ sex appeal is disproportionately emphasized in comparison to that of their male counterparts.

Lisa Carmen Wang, a Hall of Fame gymnast and four-time U.S. national champion, called out the blatant double standards in the different clothing requirements for male and female athletes.

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“Women have always been at the mercy of the male gaze,” Wang told VICE World News.

“It was always about, how do we show more leg? How do we make it so that a little bit more butt is shown so that we can have a longer leg line?” the former rhythmic gymnast said. “I just honestly don’t think that discussion even exists for men.”

tokyo 2020, olympics, sports, uniform, sexism, sexualizing

Women's beach volleyball vs. Men's beach volleyball. Photos: ANGELA WEISS / AFP

Six users who posted on the “Oh-lympics” subreddit, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they were posting pictures of women they admired and were attracted to. A 23-year-old man who goes by the user name ajvazded0 acknowledged the subreddit contributes to the oversexualization of women athletes. He described some comments as offensive and disrespectful, but said they were “unavoidable” because of “human nature.”

In response to VICE World News’ request for comment, a spokesperson for Reddit said posting sexually explicit content of someone without their consent is prohibited on the site, adding that Reddit will evaluate the content on the “Oh-lympics” subreddit.

Some athletes are pushing back against the pressure on female athletes to wear revealing uniforms.

On Monday, the German gymnastics team opted for full-length unitards instead of the usual bikini-cut. The suits, which cover athletes’ arms and legs, were worn in resistance to “sexualization,” the German Gymnastics Foundation said. 

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The German women's gymnastics team wore full-length unitards during their competitions on Jul. 26. Photo: Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP

Elisabeth Seitz, one of the German gymnasts competing at the Tokyo Olympics, said in an Instagram post that she wanted to set an example for “all gymnasts who may feel uncomfortable or even sexualized in normal suits.”

Although there’s no official rule against wearing full-length bodysuits, it’s common practice in gymnastics for female athletes to wear the more revealing bikini-cut unitard.

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When Wang was competing as a gymnast, she recalls being told that if she cut her leotard to “show more leg,” it’d win her a higher score. 

“When you are young and impressionable, of course you’ll do whatever authority figures say,” she said. “No one’s going to listen to a 15- or 16-year-old girl. And if you know that your voice isn’t going to be taken seriously, you’re not going to risk your entire career to take a stand about your leotard.“

In some sporting events, wearing revealing uniforms is mandatory for women athletes.

After deciding to wear shorts like their male counterparts earlier in July, the Norwegian women’s beach handball team was fined 1,500 euros ($1,770) for violating the European Handball Federation’s rules. 

According to the International Handball Association, the governing body of beach handball and volleyball, women athletes must wear bikini bottoms with “a close fit and cut on an upward angle toward the top of the leg,” its handbook states. Their shorts can also be no longer than four inches. But for men, shorts “can be longer” if they remain four inches above the kneecap and are not “too baggy.” 

On Monday, apparently prompted by recent criticism of sexism in the depiction of women in sports, the Olympic Broadcasting System, the official broadcaster for the Tokyo Games, banned overly sexualized images. 

The official Olympic guidelines on athletes’ portrayal in media, first published in 2018, promote the mantra “Sport appeal, not sex appeal.” The document also recommends avoiding “passive, sexy imagery” and shots that don’t relate to an athlete’s performance, such as unnecessary “crotch shots, cleavage and backsides”—all the things that “Oh-lympics” users love to leer at.

Follow Hanako Montgomery on Twitter and Instagram.