Tokyo firm sells genderless school swimsuits, reflecting student concerns

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This photo provided by Footmark Corp. shows children wearing genderless swimsuits with the same design for men and women.

TOKYO – Genderless swimsuits with the same design for men and women have been released by a Tokyo-based company for use in school swimming lessons.

Footmark Corp., a manufacturer and seller of swimming equipment and other products, said its goal was not only to meet the wishes of students who would like to reduce their skin exposure, but also to enable them to participate in swimming lessons without being aware of their gender.

The asexual swimsuit consists of a simple navy blue long sleeve top and half pants. It is spacious in the chest and waist area, which makes body shape differences between men and women less noticeable. Since the loose design hiding the lines of the body makes it difficult to swim, holes have been placed near the waist on both sides to prevent air inflation, and the half pants have been given a water-repellent finish to prevent does not become heavy after getting wet.

The company’s product development team said, “We have incorporated the conflicting requirements of ease of swimming and concealment of body lines into this product for school use. Since this is the first product we launched to the public, we will continue to listen to the voices of teachers and students and make improvements.

The swimsuits are available in 10 sizes ranging from 120cm to 4L (3XL), and there have been many requests from high schools. Two schools in Tokyo and one school in Hyogo Prefecture have decided to introduce swimsuits this school year, and 10 schools across the country plan to do so the following year.

This year, the genderless swimsuits are only available for schools, but the company plans to start selling them to the general public through its online store next year. A representative of the company’s product development team said, “We hope that by wearing these swimsuits, students can take away their anxiety about swimsuits, and we can help them address their swimming lessons in a positive way. And if that leads to the acquisition of swimming skills, which is the original purpose of the lessons, we wouldn’t have more fun than that.”

School swimsuits, which were mostly one-piece designs for girls and boxer shorts or shorts for boys, began to change in the 2000s. According to Yuko Yoshikawa of the company’s public relations department, the swimsuits long swimsuits that covered the thighs and two-piece swimsuits were first introduced for women. After that, boy’s swimwear also became longer, and in 2010 the company started selling men’s and women’s long-sleeved jackets that could hide the upper body and provide UV protection.

In a product development project undertaken with middle school students in 2015, a student came up with a swimsuit with a tank top and ankle-length pants. The company realized that there was also demand from boys who also wanted to reduce their skin exposure.

In addition to the desire to be less exposed, the asexual swimsuits were inspired by the communication of schools carrying the voice of children with “gender dysphoria” – a difference between the sex they were registered at birth and the gender they identify with.

“We’ve heard from schools worrying that they don’t know how to choose the right swimsuit,” Yoshikawa said. “We had suggested combining swimsuits with long-sleeved tops, but some people within the company remarked, ‘School uniforms are also becoming more and more genderless. We probably need to have gender-neutral swimwear.’ So we decided to develop a design that is the same for men and women.”

Mameta Endo, representative of Nijiizu, an incorporated general association that works to support children and young people of LGBT and other sexual minorities, appreciates that “the existence of gender-neutral swimwear can bring relief to students who find swimming time depressing, including those with gender dysphoria.”

Endo then added: “Personally, however, I think it would be better, in terms of respect for diversity, to allow students to choose what they like from the different options, rather than to make the same model for men and women. I think eliminating the idea that everyone has to be the same is a prerequisite for making reasonable considerations for diverse needs.”

(Japanese original by Maki Nakajima, Digital News Department)

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