Activewear Redefines Modern Femininity

Activewear Redefines Modern Femininity


Sports obedience fitness studios have entered mainstream society. While clothing is designed for both men and women, it is the women's market that is driving this phenomenal growth.

Activewear Redefines Modern Femininity
women's activewear

With the development of fashion trends, sports obedience gyms and fitness studios have entered mainstream society and cannot be ignored. Leggings, yoga pants, sports bras, and crop tops can be found everywhere from runways to cafes. COVID-19 has accelerated this trend, with work-from-home driving the recent surge in sales.

But the activewear industry has been growing exponentially over the past decade. While clothing is designed for both men and women, it is the women's market that is driving this phenomenal growth.

The trend is widely celebrated, criticized, imitated, and sometimes even considered the latest fashion trend in a society obsessed with conspicuous consumption.

On closer inspection, however, activewear plays a fascinating role in the definition of gender in the 21st century, reinforcing and counteracting popular notions of femininity.

The rise of 'feminine-friendly' activewear

Walk through any activewear store and you'll be bombarded with the rhetoric of empowerment and self-help emphasizing the importance of a fit, healthy lifestyle through the right clothing and a positive attitude.

Various academics have shown how big sportswear companies use this type of language - "get moving" and "this is not your practice life" - to reinforce the notion that women are responsible for the maintenance of their own bodies, regardless of any societal or personal barriers.

Others show how activewear companies' marketing methods encourage women to use physical activity as a means of self-transformation and a pathway to a more fulfilling life.

It's femininity based on a woman's ability to consume and maintain her own health and appearance. As feminist scholars have shown, society praises women who "take control" of their bodies and actively pursue femininity and fitness.

In this sense, sportswear has become what we might call a "socially responsible woman of the 21st century" uniform.

How to express the idealized female form through sportswear?

Part of the appeal of activewear is that it is comfortable and functional. But it was also designed to shape the body into the socially ideal hourglass female form.

High-waisted leggings that sit above the navel are advertised as having a slimming effect. They're also often advertised as "ass carvings," creating the ideal "booty" that's been valued in mainstream culture.

As some have argued, this is yet another example of corporate profits exploiting black and Hispanic culture.

Activewear features new materials designed to accentuate (not just support) specific aspects of the woman's body, helping to elevate the idealized female figure to be curvy but fat-free.

While this idealized form has changed in recent decades—from thin, to thin and toned, to the toned hourglass—the current ideal remains largely unattainable for most women.

Women's sportswear freedom and conformity

But there is another side to this phenomenon. We wanted to explore women's own experiences in sportswear. Respondents of different ages, body types, ethnicities and cultures said activewear is not only comfortable and functional but also liberating.

From Victorian corsets and maxi dresses to the "housewife" heels of the 1950s, the latest beauty and clothing trends often constrain women's bodies and movements.

But many women spoke of the freedom they experienced when they were able to comfortably go through the day, from work to school, from the gym to the café.

Even so, not all bodies in sportswear are considered acceptable. Some people, especially larger ones, are stigmatized and criticized when they don't fit the ideals of being a woman.

Some have even been physically abused or verbally harassed for wearing the "wrong" clothing in public. This is all part of a long history of social attempts to regulate the female body.

Until recently, activewear marketing was primarily aimed at young, thin, wealthy white women. In 2013, lululemon founder Chip Wilson publicly stated that his brand's leggings were "not suitable" for larger people.

In response to these limited definitions that have persisted in the activewear industry, some women have established their own brands. In Aotearoa, New Zealand, this includes the increasingly popular Hine Collection.

Founded by a Māori woman frustrated by limited sportswear sizing, the brand features plus-size models and caters to women of all shapes and cultures.

Women's sportswear protest and empowerment 

Tracksuits have even been used to protest the regulation of women's bodies in public spaces such as schools, churches, and shops, where wearing leggings is considered indecent and too distracting for men.

In 2018, New Jersey sparked outrage when young track and field athletes were told they couldn't wear sports bras outdoors while training on the men's soccer team.

Other protests and writings have made leggings and sports bras a symbol of pride and a challenge to those trying to dictate women's body choices.

However, most women choose activewear simply because it allows them to move with purpose and comfort throughout the day. While this may not be an overt political act, it is still a subtle statement that women are not controlled or objectified. They take pride in their moving bodies.

Activewear is far from an ordinary clothing choice. Rather, it contributes to our definition and understanding of femininity and gender in the 21st century. If you want to buy or customize women's sportswear, please contact us.

YOYOUNG is a professional custom sportswear manufacturer, we manufacture higher quality sportswear to help your brand optimize brand value and customer loyalty. Our professional team carefully selects and inspects each raw material to ensure their high quality. In addition, inspections during and after production further ensure the quality of the garments.