Olympics-Gymnastics-German full-body suits applauded in slow-to-change Japan

Gymnastics - Artistic - Women's Vault - Qualification

By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) - The full-body suits of Germany's Olympic gymnasts have struck a chord on Japanese social media, with many applauding the freedom of choice in a nation where schoolgirls almost always wear skirts and high heels are still required in some offices.

The German women's gymnastics team competed in red and white unitards, which are combined leotards and leggings extending to the ankles, in qualifications at the Tokyo Olympics on Sunday after saying they aimed to counter the sexualisation of the sport and women could wear what they choose.

The suits garnered much debate and applause on Japanese social media, with several women sharing bitter stories from their past.

"I used to compete in rhythmic gymnastics, and there were always two middle-aged men at our meets who took photos only when we lifted our legs," wrote "Yuko" in a Twitter post.

"Leotards can be beautiful and convenient, but the fact that some people abuse them like this means the matter should be taken seriously."

Body-hugging, high-cut shorts for Japanese schoolgirls known as "bloomers" used to be a requirement in gym classes and were a source of embarrassment for generations of girls.

"We got up a petition to change the bloomers to shorts like the boys, but were told by our male teachers: 'Girls must wear bloomers! Absolutely!'" wrote Twitter user "Ste".

"Our pleas to wear shorts were completely unacceptable to the old fogeys who ran our school."

Although bloomers have faded into history, Japanese girls in junior and senior high school are mostly required to wear skirts as part of their formal uniform. Some schools have recently allowed for the option of slacks, but numbers remain low despite rising calls for change and some relaxation of other rules.

As adults, women often still face dress codes at work, which can include requests to wear high heels. Two years ago, this prompted a vigorous online protest campaign called "KuToo" - a play on the Japanese words for "shoes" and "pain" - echoing the "MeToo" movement.

Many posting on social media said the sight of the German women performing powerful tumbling and uneven bar routines in their unitards was inspiring.

"The unitards are beautiful, and I love that they wore them at the Olympics," wrote Twitter user "Kodaiyumebuta".

"I oppose the society that sensualises women's bodies. They are athletes, and they have given me courage."

(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Karishma Singh)