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The Complicated Connection between Athletics and Breasts

Women have struggled with balancing their bodies against their athletic pursuits as far back as the Amazons from Greek mythology. Legends said that members of this all-female tribe of ferocious warriors removed their left breasts so they could more easily draw their bow and arrow and excel in battle unimpeded. Today, breast size is still a consideration for many female athletes.

The History of Breasts in Sports

The question of how to deal with breasts in professional sporting events is a relatively recent concern. The first woman to compete officially in the Boston Marathon, Katherine Switzer, didn’t do so until 1967, and even then she was warned that her breasts could atrophy in response to the intense jostling she would experience. She ran the race anyway.

The sports bra wasn’t developed for another decade; the first prototype was actually sewn together from two jock straps. Before that time, there was no idea that women would (a) compete regularly in highly competitive physical sports or (b) need to take special precautions to protect and support their breasts when competing.

These days, of course, there are a number of prominent female athletes, both amateur and professional. In general, female athletes have smaller breasts, either naturally or as a result of their training and fitness routine.

Eliminating Breast Implants from Competition

In a more extreme example, the Louisiana State Boxing and Wrestling Commission recently passed a rule demanding that fighters with breast implants receive clearance from their plastic surgeons prior to competing in boxing or mixed martial arts matches. This 60-day temporary measure will buy the commission more time to study evidence about potential safety risks related to the possibility of ruptured implants in the ring. Options being considered range from outright bans on fighters with implants to insisting upon signed security waivers before competing.

Other female athletes are eliminating breasts from the game on their own, or are struggling with their curves in other ways:

  • Romanian tennis star Simona Halep recently made headlines when she reduced her 34DD bra size to a 34C… and broke into the top 30 players worldwide shortly thereafter.
  • Jana Pittman-Rawlinson, an Australian hurdler, reversed her breast augmentation to have her much-beloved breast implants removed out of fear that they might limit her performance at the 2012 Olympics.
  • American archer Kristin Braun says that the form adjustments she needs to make due to breast size while drawing her bow have a negative impact on her performance.
  • Gymnast Dominique Moceanu, just 14 when she competed in the 1996 Olympics, said that gymnastic coaches carefully monitored the competitors’ diets to delay breast development and prevent puberty from impacting performance.

But not all female athletes view their breasts as a handicap. When Halep first announced her decision to undergo breast reduction, a retired beach volleyball player in South Africa named Alena Schurkova publicly disagreed, suggesting that Halep’s surgery would send a message that breasts and sports don’t mix. Schurkova encouraged young athletic women to embrace their curves instead. And Serena Williams, known as much for her tennis serve as she is for her curvaceous body, hasn’t made any effort to diminish her assets, yet remains just as much at the top of her game as ever. It just goes to show there isn’t any one answer when it comes to women in sports.

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November 12, 2013
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November 12, 2013