She was targeted solely because of how a school-issued uniform happened to fit the shape of her body.
Swimmer on a starting block
Credit: FangXiaNuo/Getty Images

Last week, 17-year-old swimmer Breckyn Willis was disqualified from a race after an official felt that she violated her high school's rules by showing too much of her backside.

Willis, a swimmer at Dimond High School in Alaska, had just won a 100-yard freestyle race when her victory was tossed out because of how her swimsuit was riding up. But Willis didn't choose the suit she was wearing. It was a team uniform issued to her by her school. And even though she and her teammates were dressed identically, she was the only one cited for a uniform violation.

The Anchorage School District took note of this discrepancy and immediately filed an appeal to the Alaska School Activities Association (ASAA), which governs athletics in the state's school, according to The Washington Post. The school district asked the ASAA to reevaluate the disqualification based on the fact that it was "heavy-handed and unnecessary," and that Willis was "targeted based solely on how a standard, school-issued uniform happened to fit the shape of her body." (Related: Let's Stop Judging Other Women's Bodies)

Fortunately, Willis' win was restored less than an hour after the appeal was made. The ASAA's decision to reverse the disqualification cited a rule that says officials are supposed to notify a coach about inappropriate attire before an athlete's heat, according to local news station KTVA. Since Willis had already competed wearing the same suit on the same day, her disqualification was void.

The ASAA also reportedly sent out a guidance letter to all swim and dive officials, reminding them that they are required to consider whether a swimmer is intentionally rolling up a swimsuit to expose his or her buttocks before they issue any disqualifications.

But many believe that Willis' disqualification was more than just a misunderstanding or misplaced judgment.

Lauren Langford, a swim coach at another high school in the area, told The Washington Post that she believes "racism, in addition to sexism," played a role, considering Willis is one of the few non-white swimmers in the school district.

"All of these girls are all wearing suits that are cut the same way," Langford told The Post. "And the only girl who gets disqualified is a mixed-race girl with rounder, curvier features."

"That to me is so inappropriate," Langford added, noting that female swimmers are often accused of purposefully hiking up their suits when it's usually something that happens unintentionally. (Related: Why Body-Shaming Is Such a Big Problem and What You Can Do to Stop It)

"We have a term for it—it's called a suit wedgie," Langford said. "And wedgies happen. It's uncomfortable. No one's going to walk around that way intentionally."

Turns out, this isn't the first time Willis' attire has been called into question. Last year, a male parent took a photo of her backside (!) without her permission and shared it with other parents to show that girls on the team were wearing "inappropriate" swimwear, according to the Anchorage School District.

The school district's officials took serious issue with this unnamed parent's approach. Dimond High's assistant principal told the parent that "it was not permissible for him to take pictures of others' children and that he should stop immediately."

Understandably, Willis' mother, Meagan Kowatch is unhappy with the way her daughter has been treated. While she's glad her daughter's victory was reinstated, she feels a lot more needs to be done to reconcile the incident.

"It's a commendable start but this is not going to end here if this is all they've got," Kowatch told KTVA. "We're going to end up with a lawsuit. So, we're optimistic that conditions are going to get better but at this point, it's just not enough."

Kowatch wants the ASAA to apologize to her daughter. "ASAA needs to be held accountable for what happened to [my daughter]," she said.

In the meantime, the Alaska School District's senior director of secondary education, Kersten Johnson-Struempler said that the district launched an investigation into Willis's disqualification and "will do more to make sure their students feel safe," according to KTVA. (Related: Study Finds Body-Shaming Leads to Higher Mortality Risk)

"We really want kids to be judged on the merit of their play on a field, or a pool, or a court, whatever their sport is," Johnson-Struempler told KTVA. "We don't really have any desire for kids to feel like they're being body-shamed or judged because of the shape of their body or size. We really want them to be fully engaged in those activities and only concentrating on their sport and nothing else."