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Tokyo company sells genderless school swimwear, reflecting student concerns

This photo provided by Footmark Corp. shows children wearing genderless swimsuits with the same design for both 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 that its goal was not only to respond to the wishes of students who would like to reduce their skin exposure, but also to allow them to participate in swimming classes without being conscious of their gender.

    The genderless swimwear consists of a simple navy blue, long-sleeved top and half pants. It is roomy in the chest and waist areas, making differences in body shape between men and women less noticeable. Since the loose-fitting design hiding the lines of the body makes it difficult to swim, holes were placed near the waist on both sides to prevent air inflation, and the half pants were given a water-repellent finish to prevent them from becoming heavy after getting wet.

    The company's product development staff said, "We have incorporated the conflicting requirements of ease of swimming and hiding body lines into this product for school use. Since this is the first product we have released to the public, we will continue to listen to the voices of school teachers and students and make improvements."

    The swimwear is available in 10 sizes ranging from 120 cm to 4L (3XL), and there have been many inquiries from junior high schools. Two schools in Tokyo and one school in Hyogo Prefecture have decided to introduce the swimsuits this academic year, and 10 schools across the country are considering doing so the year after.

    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 staff said, "We hope that by wearing these swimsuits, students will be able to dispel their anxiety about swimwear, and we will be able to help them tackle their swimming lessons in a positive manner. And if this leads to the acquisition of swimming skills, which is the original purpose of the lessons, we would have no greater pleasure than this."

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

    In a product development project undertaken with junior high school students in 2015, a male student proposed a swimsuit with a tank-top and pants that extended down to the ankles. The company realized that there was also demand from boys who also wanted to reduce their skin exposure.

    In addition to the desire for less exposure, the genderless swimsuits were inspired by communication from schools conveying the voices of children with "gender dysphoria" -- a difference between the sex they were registered as at birth and the sex they self-identify as.

    "We had heard some concerns from schools that they didn't know how to choose the right swimwear," Yoshikawa said. "We had suggested combining swimwear with long-sleeved tops, but some people within the company pointed out, 'School uniforms are also becoming more genderless. We probably need to have swimsuits that are gender-neutral.' So we decided to develop a design that was the same for both men and women."

    Mameta Endo, representative of Nijiizu, a general incorporated association that works to support children and youth of LGBT and other sexual minorities, appreciates that "the existence of gender-neutral swimsuits may provide relief for students who find swimming time depressing, including those with gender dysphoria."

    Endo then added, "Personally, though, I think it would be better in terms of respecting diversity to allow students to choose what they like among the various options, rather than making the same model for men and women. I think that 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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