Western Recreation Centre’s dress code policy sparked debate on campus earlier in September over whether or not students and others attending the gym should be asked to cover up.
According to the policy which came into effect more than a decade ago, gym patrons aren't allowed to wear certain apparel including sports bras, crop tops, athletic shorts and loose tank tops that might be too revealing.
At the time of the first story, Michelle Harvey, coordinator of fitness and wellness at the Rec Centre had stated that the rules were based off a study that found that such rules help people with body image issues who otherwise are less likely to frequent the gym.
Harvey also added that wearing full-length shirts is a sanitation measure to prevent sweat from making contact with the workout machines.
According to Harvey, this policy was already in place when she started working at the recreation centre in 2005.
Since then, The Gazette has requested for the referred study or studies several times.
However, the Rec Centre has been unable to direct The Gazette to any specific study that was used in the decision-making process.
"Our policy is based hygiene issues and multiple pieces of research from both Kathleen Martin-Ginis and Tara [Dinyer] combining a number of papers and studies. It is not one specific research project. We also looked at policies at other Ontario schools," Harvey said.
Across Canada, different post-secondary institutions have different dress code policies. Fanshawe College here in London has a similar dress code to Western. York University does not have a dress code for their campus gym.
Recreation Centre administration referred The Gazette to Kathleen Martin Ginis, a researcher looking into the psychology of sport at McMaster University. When contacted by The Gazette, Ginis was unavailable to comment.
Tara-Lyn Dinyer was pursuing her masters degree under professor Martin Ginis at McMaster University while working as the fitness coordinator.
“I was the fitness coordinator at McMaster at the time and I implemented a dress code where students had to wear shirts with sleeves and appropriate length shorts,” said Dinyer.
Dinyer was involved in a study where researchers initially invited women to participate in a group fitness class. The women were divided into two groups. One group was wearing more revealing clothing, and the other group was wearing shorts and a T-shirt.
The women did not participate in the fitness class but were asked about their social physique anxiety. According to Dinyer the results were overwhelming: those wearing the more revealing clothing had higher social physique anxiety.
However, one study that The Gazette was directed to by Dinyer involved a Western professor which produced different results.
Western kinesiology professor Harry Prapavessis who was working with Martin-Ginis conducted a study which attempted to analyze women’s perceptions about themselves while following fitness videos.
“The premise was how women react to media images. That’s where we started with this. When women are briefly exposed to television images of thin female models they tend to report increased anger, depression, anxiety and certainly dissatisfaction with their own bodies,” Prapavessis said.
However, the results were contradictory to what the researchers hypothesized. They found that women did not necessarily feel less self-confident simply because of the clothing the fitness leader was wearing, but by comparing themselves to the overall attractiveness of the model.
“It didn’t appear to be anything to do with the clothes that they were wearing in terms of being manipulated, it was more to do with whether they see the model as generally more attractive than them or not, and that’s where the differences appeared,” Prapevessis said.
“It still lends itself to the idea that models with subjectively better appearances [are] likely what makes women feel badly about their own bodies and why they might not want to adhere to exercising with a video like that.”
Private gyms such as GoodLife Fitness do not enforce dress codes similar to one at the Rec Centre and patrons have more freedom in choosing their workout attire.
Samantha Brennan, professor of women’s studies and feminist research and philosophy spoke out against the policy a month ago.
“My original thought was [that] as long as it’s gender neutral and gender neutrally applied there isn’t a particularly feminist objection to having a dress code. Twenty-four hours later, after hearing all of my friends' outrage at the idea of a dress code, I did begin to wonder what the point of a dress code is,” Brennan said.
“If it’s simply to make other people feel comfortable, I’m not sure we should have a dress code. I think probably people should just decide for themselves what they want to wear to the gym and if you don’t want to look you shouldn’t look.”