Is This College Student Wearing a Shirt or a Bra? A Gym Dress-Code Debate Goes Viral

Sabrina Rojas Weiss
A Charleston student says she was kicked out of her gym for this outfit. (Photo: Sarah Villafane via Facebook)

A college student in South Carolina shared a Facebook photo of the outfit that got her kicked out of her gym on Wednesday, and the fight over what counts as appropriate workout attire has once again gone viral.

“I literally bought this outfit to work out in because it’s COMFORTABLE,” Sarah Villafañe wrote of her midriff-baring tank top and leggings. “What is the issue? Why can’t I work out in this outfit? Is my belly button distracting to the general 85% male demographic that your gym serves? I’m forced to leave, WHY? Honestly I’m so floored that I just got kicked out for this.”

The student at the College of Charleston said she wore the same outfit at school all day without incident, “But when I walked into the gym they asked me to put on a different shirt when I walked in,” Villafañe said of her arrival at the George Street Fitness Center. She worked out anyway because she didn’t have an extra shirt and was confronted by an employee and the employee’s boss. A back-and-forth ensued over whether what she was wearing counted as a shirt.

“He says, ‘Are you gonna put a shirt on?’ And I said, ‘Well if this isn’t a shirt … no. I’m not gonna put a shirt on,’ ” she wrote.

According to the local ABC affiliate, the gym’s dress code posted near the entrance states: “Athletic attire is to be worn. This includes T-shirts, running shoes, sneakers, shorts, or pants. Footwear must be worn.”

Though midriff-baring shirts are not specifically mentioned, they are prohibited — not for fear of distracting belly buttons, as Villafañe surmised but to prevent the spread of disease, Mike Robertson, the College of Charleston’s senior director of media, told Yahoo Style via email.

The National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) issued a statement years ago warning of the infectious diseases that can thrive in athletic settings. “Because of this possibility, the College of Charleston and many other Colleges and universities follow best practices that require people in the gym to wear a full shirt while working out in order to minimize skin exposure to possible infectious agents,” Robertson said.

NATA does not specifically suggest clothing as a preventive measure, but it does recommend that institutions do their utmost to maintain a clean, hygienic environment to guard against the likes of herpes simplex, impetigo, and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, known as MRSA.

Nasty rashes aside, Villafañe’s post has become renewed the debate over whether dress codes protect students or subject them to body-shaming. Women have been booted for dress code violations at other gyms in recent years — after all, and it’s not usually about germs.

“We literally have entire classes built around women overcoming slut-shaming and empowering themselves and then the gym is going to do something like this?” asked fellow student Lane Whitlow.

Meaner commenters decided to berate Villafañe and others for showing off their “curves.” Inevitably, the conversation devolved into why people choose to complain about things in public forums. There is also potential for this debate to become the next #thedress, dividing the world over whether she was wearing a shirt or a long sports bra.

“Tbh I like the outfit, but at the end of the day rules are enforced for a reason and what makes you think you’re any better than others and shouldn’t have to follow the rules?” wrote Shania Rabon. “Clearly that is not a full ‘shirt.’ ”

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