PEI student says her gym outfit — a crop top — was called too ‘distracting’ to others

University student Kylee Graham in the outfit she said she was wearing when campus gym staff questioned her top. Kylee Graham / Facebook

A university student said she was told her workout clothing was “considered inappropriate” and violated her school gym’s dress code because her crop top could be deemed “distracting” to others.

Kylee Graham, a first-year veterinarian student at the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown, posted about the incident on her Facebook account on Oct. 9. [The post is now deleted.] Graham wrote that she was stopped by staff when she entered the gym for wearing a top that showed a small portion of her stomach area and leggings.

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“The staff preceded [sic] to pull out a binder and show me that women were not allowed to wear sports bras alone, open back shirts, and shirts that were cut low on each side even with sports bras underneath,” she wrote. “I told her this isn’t a sports bra as you couldn’t even see my belly button… and they said, ‘Okay, you’re fine for today but in the future even wearing a see-through shirt over top would suffice.'”
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Graham said she then continued on inside the gym and worked out, but when she was done exercising, the staff talked to her again about her outfit.

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“As I was leaving, the same person turned to me and said, ‘My coworkers and I discussed what you were wearing and decided it was okay,'” she wrote. “At this point, I was angry and so I asked, ‘What exactly isn’t allowed then and why?'”

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Graham said she was told sports bras are not allowed to be worn as tops inside the gym because they show “abs and cleavage.” She wrote that when she pressed staff on why this is, they allegedly replied, “because we are trying to find a happy medium where girls can still work out with men.”

“So then I asked, daring for her to say it out right, ‘What do you mean? Why does that matter?'” she wrote. “With her replying, ‘So that [girls] aren’t too much, and distracting.'”

Graham posted that she was “angry” about the situation and how it was handled, and asked why the school’s dress code seemed to regulate women’s bodies more intensely than men’s. She told Global News that the comments made during the second portion of her discussion with gym staff felt “very misogynistic.”

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“Women were being prevented from wearing something because it was considered too sexual … it would distract men, and therefore, women’s comfort and fitness was being considered as less important than just telling men to be respectful,” she said to Global News. “They were also indicating that women’s bodies are for some reason shameful, and women shouldn’t be confident to wear something that makes them feel and look good.”

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Nicole Phillips, the associate director of marketing and communications at the University of Prince Edward Island, confirmed to Global News that the school was aware of the incident. She said that the gym has clothing guidelines — not a strict policy — and that students aren’t kicked out for wearing crop tops or sports bras.

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“UPEI athletics and recreation did create a set of guidelines that went into place in February 2018,” Phillips said to Global News. “The reason why they were created was … just because of feedback that had come in from several members and patrons about them feeling uncomfortable with what some people were wearing in the sports and fitness centre.”

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Philips said that the athletics department looked to other Canadian universities’ policies, and developed a set of guidelines to help people understand what’s appropriate gym attire.

“They’re guidelines to help people understand what’s appropriate, and they range from references to clothing to also even footwear…  like not wearing flip flops and having closed toe shoes,’ she said. “[The guidelines] do refer to shorts — how long shorts should be — and how tops should cover the rib cage.”

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“There’s no reference to crop tops or sports bras; it’s broad and very non-gender specific.”

Phillips said that the university has talked to the student staff who were involved in Graham’s situation, and the university has apologized to Graham.

“What we’ve learned from this situation … is that some of the guidelines are pretty cut-and-dry, like if somebody is wearing a pair of flip-flops, it’s pretty obvious that could cause a safety concern or personal injury,” she said. “It’s one thing to approach someone and advise them that that’s not within the guidelines, but clothing is obviously a lot more subjective.”

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She said moving forward, the university is instructing their student staff to bring any clothing concerns to a department staff member. Senior staff will then decide how to approach the situation, she said.

“[The gym] is certainly very apologetic to the student for being made to feel the way she felt,” Phillips said. “That was never the intent of the guideline.”

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