Change in CARSA dress code sparks online backlash

Campus News

A new dress code at CARSA has caused a stir online after a gym member took to Instagram to voice her concern about being told her shorts violated the updated policy.

Luiza, a recent UVic graduate who asked to be referred to only by her first name, has been attending CARSA since the gym opened in 2015. On Monday, July 31, Luiza was approached in the middle of her workout by a member of the gym staff saying that her shorts were too short — violating the gym’s new dress code — and that she would have to change if she wished to continue exercising.

A photo of the outfit that a CARSA staff member said violated the gym's new dress code. Photo provided
A photo of Luiza’s outfit. A CARSA staff member told Luiza that her shorts violated the gym’s new dress code. Photo provided

Luiza detailed the story — with pictures of her outfit — to her 50,000 Instagram followers, and soon Luiza’s inbox and the Vikes Rec Instagram page were flooded with similar stories of female members being told their clothing was inappropriate.

The dress code, which was updated some time over the July 29 weekend, already banned the use of open-toed shoes, shirts with large cut-outs along the side, and anything showing stomach or too much back. The updated policy features an X-ed out photo of a woman wearing short shorts and reads that attire must cover members’ “gluteal folds.”

“It’s not fair,” says Luiza. “I just believe the dress code is unfair, and unnecessary, and backwards.”

Clint Hamilton, the Director of Vikes Recreation and Athletics, says the change in dress code is part of continuous adjustments to the policy that the Vikes make.

“In general, we have always made some tweaks,” Hamilton says. “We’re aware [of] a number of comments that have come in about shorts . . . we’ve been more deliberate about including length of shorts in this particular policy.

“We receive a number of different comments from our users and concerns,” Hamilton explains. “Our goal is to create kind of a welcoming, safe environment and part of that welcoming is that people feel comfortable in that facility.

“Some people are very uncomfortable when they see people wearing inappropriate clothing — [like] shorts that are hiked too far up. So [in] part of responding to that, we’ve recognized an area where we felt we weren’t particularly clear, and we’ve added that element to the policy.”

CARSA have notified members of the changed policy with flyers posted throughout the gym. Luiza says she saw the flyers when she walked into the gym, but thought they were the regular dress code flyers and didn’t look twice at them.

She also says that she walked past several other staff members throughout her workout until the staff member came up to her and asked her to change.

The exchange between herself and the staff member was pleasant, Luiza says, but she says the humiliation of the experience caused her to burst into tears soon afterwards.

“I walk away, try to calm myself because I was so embarrassed. And then I look back — everyone was still staring at me,” Luiza says, speaking through tears. “I felt like they were looking at me like I was the biggest slut. It felt so humiliating.”

With no other athletic wear to change into, Luiza left the gym. On the way out, she stopped at the front desk where some of the flyers were lying on the counter. She ripped up a flyer, told the attendant she felt the dress code was ridiculous, and left.

It was then that Luiza posted about the incident on Instagram, where she received hundreds of messages.

A photo of CARSA's updated dress code. The only change is the addition of the short shorts photo in the bottom right and the mention of "gluteal folds". Photo provided and edited for sizing purposes
A photo of CARSA’s updated dress code. The only change is the addition of the short shorts photo in the bottom right and the mention of “gluteal folds”. Photo provided and edited for sizing purposes

Workers at Lululemon, the Vancouver-based clothing chain where Luiza bought her shorts, messaged Luiza to express their sympathy and tell her that the shorts she was wearing were their most popular product for weightlifters and dancers.

Luiza claims that even staff members at CARSA — some of whom were at the gym to witness the incident — messaged her to express their own displeasure with the dress code.

The Vikes Rec Instagram page also received scores of comments criticizing the gym and its dress code, while others, some friends and some strangers, messaged Luiza with their own negative experiences at UVic gym facilities.

“I had so many girls reach out to me and say, ‘this happened to me at UVic. I was wearing this, they told me leave, I was kicked out for wearing this, they were so rude and it was humiliating,'” Luiza says. “I got about twenty messages like that.”

CARSA has reached out to Luiza and offered to meet with her to “provide an overview of [their] code of conduct and dress code policy.”

Luiza says she won’t be returning to UVic gyms after the experience, but she still hopes that speaking out will convince CARSA to change their minds and the policy.

“I didn’t do this for attention,” Luiza says, “I didn’t do it for sympathy. I did it just to change this policy.”

Files by Kaitlyn Kokoska