Is a Sports Bra Underwear?

Is a sports bra underwear?

Green and black sports bra
Genusfotografen ( [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
I only ask because I thought it was, and I thought that, as underwear, it would normally be covered. I also thought that it was inappropriate to wear underwear uncovered in a family-friendly place like a community gym.

Apparently, I am not only considered to be wrong about this, but I have also been accused of body-shaming.

All this came about because a woman in Edmonton was asked to cover up her sports bra in a community gym, and she was surprised to have been asked. She was so surprised, in fact, that she brought the issue to the attention of the local CBC TV station, and they published an article about it online. The article included a picture of her wearing her sports bra, so now we all know how good she looks.

The CBC asked, on Twitter, what readers thought and I had a brief exchange with another person that went like this:

Me:      Underwear gets covered. Bikinis are for beaches. The community gym is for the community.

Other person:              A gym is a horrible place for physical body shaming of any kind.

Me:      Body shaming??

Other person:              telling people their body offends others. As long as its not sexual. Which it is not.

Me:      No body offends. Just saying different social circumstances require diff clothes.

I stopped following the discussion after that because I went to bed, but it was still on my mind the next morning. I probably sounded very judgemental in my first comment and so the other person assumed all sorts of things about me on that basis.

What is and is not appropriate clothing at the gym doesn’t bother me a whole lot, and I don’t really care what the woman in question wears, but it really surprised me to be accused of body shaming. I wasn’t thinking about the woman’s body because I was thinking about social norms around clothing.

That probably goes back to the expectations I learned as a child, and in those days in England there were all kinds of unspoken rules about clothes that a person was supposed to learn and practise.  There were rules about gloves and hats, handbags and shoes, and how long a hemline should be.  Obviously, most of those rules have gone or changed, but there are still some things that I thought we all agreed upon.

Madonna wearing bustier on stage
By Hans Schaft (MadonnaUnderground) CC BY-SA 3.0  via Wikimedia Commons

Even though we symbolically burned our bras back in the 60s, most women still wear them for practical reasons. Unless we are Madonna, we don’t wear them as outer clothing, though. They are still underwear, even if they are covered only by a flimsy camisole or a tank top.

But, this seems to be another rule that has been challenged so that expectations have changed.  I know women who run marathons often do so wearing a sports bra without covering it up, but to my mind there is a distinction between that activity and workouts at a community gym.  I don’t know why; it just seemed like a different category of public engagement.

Anyway, I don’t mind being wrong about whether a sports bra is or is not underwear. I don’t care enough. I do mind being accused of body shaming, though.  That could not have been further from my mind.  In fact, as an overweight older woman, I have had my share of condescending and/or patronizing looks from others at the gym, so there is no way I would even remotely consider shaming anyone else.

Or, am I missing something?  Am I somehow unconsciously shaming another person just by saying I think their bra should be covered up?  I suppose that’s possible, but I don’t think so.  I don’t want them to cover up their body so much as I want them to cover up their bra! I’m not body-shaming; I’m just a fuddy-duddy. Now, you kids get off of my lawn!





  1. A sports bra can be both underwear and a standalone like a bikini top, in my opinion.

    When you work out it gets hot and clothes gets sticky. Sometimes it’s just not worth keeping on. I’ve gotten hot enough at the gym before to take my shirt off and throw it over my shoulder. I don’t really think that’s a big deal.

    Watch yoga videos and even old aerobic videos and a lot of the women wear their sports bra with their workout pants. And that’s it.

    However, gyms set their own dress codes just like anywhere else. As long as they have it set in stone somewhere on paper or online, I don’t see anything wrong with enforcing it.

    • I know many women who wear them and they generally take the same position as you. It seems as though community gyms where there are children participating in various sports activities prefer, in Edmonton at least, for sports bras to be covered. I don’t think this is made generally known, though, which is where the problem arose for the woman in the news article. I think they say something vague like “appropriate” clothing, which is no help at all!

      • Well to be fair, it’s not really about covering up the bra. That’s not why they ask us to wear a shirt. It’s a hygiene concern.

        Like my gym asks us not to wear tank tops and spaghetti strapped tops. They prefer tops with sleeves. It “contains” all that underarm sweat and helps to keep it off the machines and such.

        That said, I’m not sure what the reason is for that gym. Maybe the woman just spun the story to be about her bra.

  2. Nothing you said sounded remotely like “body shaming”. Rest assured the response was 100% about the person who responded and 0% about your comment. Many random comments can be made to 10 different people, some might find it funny, some might find it rude, some might think it spot on…with the comment being the same…the response is much more about the responder. “Whatever you want” is a great example…Omgosh…I never text that because it can be taken in so many ways.

Please leave a comment.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.