The recent posts on What to wear and What not to wear sparked a lot of debate, mostly along the lines of "why should it matter." I've written about this before, but it bears repeating.
This is a huge issue with figure skating and the other artistic sports, gymnastics and dance. Strangely, in the most artistic of them, dance, the body-type restrictions have started to be overcome through such forward-thinking companies as the Joffrey in Chicago, whose founder specifically sought out non-typical body types. They have had squat, and heavy, and bosom-y, and most notably non-white dancers in the company since their founding.
Inevitably when following a Twitter discussion, or just listening to the live media comments, at some point someone will bring up the costumes. If I had a dime for every time Dick Button mentioned that so-and-so is "a beautiful girl" I would be a rich woman.
These sports rely, for both scoring and enjoyment, on how they look. The problem comes when we overlay cultural definitions of beauty onto the successful execution of the skills. This is not the same thing as costume. For me, I want costumes to be neat, I want hair to be simple and safe, and I don't want to see undergarments, even on very young children.
The bigger problem is that while we consciously get indignant over costume--as one commenter put it "why should my daughter's undewear have anything to do with her skill"--we are unconsciously not even considering the fact that the judges are selecting, through gamed scoring, for specific body types. While judges tend to be pretty fair in testing situations, I maintain that even at the lower levels they will favor the look over the skills, especially when all other things are equal. The thin, flat-chested pixies start getting held up because judges like thin, flat-chested pixies.
We had an amazingly talented skater at our rink who grew a beautiful, full bosom in her mid-teens.
At which point her coach told her she was done, because she was now "too fat." Trust me, the ONLY fat on that girl's body was in her breasts. She still had the jumps, she still had the art. But her coach, and the judges, decided she didn't look right, and that's how they scored her.
I maintain that Rachael Flatt is a perfect example of someone repeatedly criticized not for her skating, but for her body type. A lot of the discussion was "no one knows how to dress that girl [to hide her sloping shoulders and thick middle.]" But what was meant was that she didn't look like our image of a skating champion. I really believe that consistent underscoring by judges was a way for them to get rid of this young woman who just didn't look right.
A generation ago they did the same thing to Surya Bonaly and Debi Thomas, who had the audacity to be black. The irony there, of course, is that the person who beat Debi Thomas at the Olympics was Katarina Witt, whom I used to call "hope for fat girls everywhere." Sometimes the talent really does trump the look. But like women in the board room, they had to be head-and-shoulders better than the sylphs they were beating.
The unfairness of this is maintained by the scoring system--where there is a tie (rare in the IJS but common under 6.0)--the performance marks break the tie. If the technical mark broke the tie, as it should, you would start seeing a wider range of body types, and probably more consistent skating as well, as skaters and coaches started realizing that they couldn't rely on the more subjective component (i.e. the artistic) score.
Children should not be fat, but frankly if we stopped excluding the fat ones from praise for taking part in the beautiful sports, maybe some of them would start feeling like they could be fairy princesses on the ice too.
I still don't want to see their undergarments, by the way.