Booty Shorts and Modesty

//found at the ascent blog

Two summers ago, I was working as a raft guide on the Colorado River, and spent my days doing the best I could to keep myself covered and protected from the 100+ degree heat and sun. All of the river guides, male and female, would typically wear long board shorts, lightweight, long-sleeve button-up shirts, and big hats. I didn’t think much of it until one trip where a young woman from Salt Lake City approached one of our female guides. This particular guide was tall, slender, and had a great body, and the woman walked up and thanked her for dressing so modestly. “As someone whose husband is on this trip, I really appreciate that you girls keep covered up,” she said. “I think it’s a wonderful display of modesty and I just wanted to let you know that I think it’s wonderful.”

I remembered that conversation the other day at the beginning of a WOD, as I mentioned to a friend that I my new Lulu shorts were so short that I actually had to manage my bikini line before I could wear them. At the end of that same WOD, I pulled my shirt off and went for a walk around the block in the light drizzle, trying to cool down from a long chipper that had ended with 40 heavy Russian kettlebell swings.

When you’re in the box, it seems second nature for men to be walking around shirtless and women to be squatting and lunging in little more than their underwear. And most people in there put months and years into growing their muscles and reducing their body fat–they have earned the right to show off their bodies. And typically, it doesn’t bother me. I am the first one to admit that picking up a heavy bar makes me feel pretty hardcore, but wearing tiny shorts while doing it makes me feel, inexplicably, like even more of a badass. I am definitely proud of my body, and I am ok with other people paying attention to the way I look (just as long as they aren’t looking at my unibrow).

A few months ago, a girl joined the gym who would always wear spandex capris under her Nike running shorts (which are still a lot longer than most of the other shorts you see at the gym). I have to admit that I thought this was a little unusual, and wondered aloud with some other girls why she felt like she needed to be “so covered up.” As I got to know her a little better, I realized that she was a very dedicated Christian, and was maybe dressing modestly because of her religious beliefs. But why should someone have to have a “reason” to dress modestly at the gym?

Don’t get me wrong–if I walked into the gym tomorrow wearing long shorts and a loose-fitting t-shirt instead of my normal leggings and tank top or booty shorts, I doubt most people would notice, let alone care. But, they might. And here’s the kicker: I know that I would feel out of place.

When I worked on the river, being covered up was the norm. But obviously for the woman who went out of her way to comment on how impressed she was by our modesty, the norm was young women trying to get away with showing as much skin as possible just because they could. And that is definitely the culture I have noticed in the CrossFit world–almost every photo I’ve seen from Regionals this past weekend is of shirtless athletes doing muscle-ups or women in tiny spandex shorts doing deep squats. I have to imagine that they are able to do those movements wearing just about anything, so why did they pick those tight, revealing choices instead? Because they want to show off their bodies, but also because that is the norm. In fact, the competition uniform that The CrossFit Games distributed to last year’s female competitors were skin-tight performance t-shirts and tiny shorts with their competitor number on them. In some ways, it seems that if you want to be good at CrossFit, working out half-naked is something you need to be okay with.

I’m not really sure what conclusion I am trying to get at here, because honestly I believe that if you feel comfortable showing off your body by wearing tiny shorts or pulling your shirt off, then you should have the right to do so. And if you spend months and years eating healthfully and exercising regularly, you should be proud to show off the fruits of your labor. But for today, it’s just something to think about. Maybe it’s time to expand the culture a little bit.

  • Carol Setters

    When I was a dancer in my twenties on Broadway in NYC, it was normal for all of us, male and female, to line up in the wardrobe area under the stage to dress and undress with absolutely no feeling of being exposed. We were artists, and our bodies were our instruments. But it was a closed environment. Normal modesty prevailed outside of the theater.

    As Crossfit becomes a more and more public sport, the step-over-the-line will occur from a marketing professional who has been given the job of creating an advertising campaign for a product line that uses Crossfit champions and sees sex instead of strength. It’s bound to happen. When it does, we’ll feel the disturbance in the force, and that’s when we’ll move towards more covering. Just my opinion. Which I respect.

    • Kate Stevenson

      I think you’re absolutely correct.

  • Kim Turner

    I think that you should be able to wear whatever makes you comfortable!! I run in just my sports bra often because it is the most comfortable way for me to run when it’s hot. i see the other side, too (because I grew up with a mom who didn’t even let me go swimming because she considered it “indecent”) – and while I respect other’s beliefs I also think we all have the right to decide what works for us.
    You should keep rocking your booty shorts – you earned your body!!!

    • jezbanana

      Yes. With one exception. Rock the booty shorts if you WANT TO – not just if you’ve “earned” it. (Earning leads to privilege leads to judgment and besides… we’re dressing for what works and not impressing anyone!)

      • clairechapman

        Definitely. After reading these comments I think that I should have used a better example of “earning it” because I think that you can “earn” your body by losing weight and gaining muscle, but you can also earn it by gaining a new appreciation for your big thighs, or by learning to see yourself in a new way.

    • clairechapman

      I totally agree! Thanks Kim!

  • Jill

    One of the reasons I admire Kristen Clevver so much is that she doesn’t seem to feel the need to conform to the ‘uniform’. I do CrossFit in my long johns sometimes, partly because its what’s clean and partly because I don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on brand name clothes.

    • stacialynch

      I agree. I don’t really care what people chose to wear but I really like the Kristen shows that you can be an individual and wear whatever you’re comfortable with…performance is the ultimate goal, not fashion.

      • clairechapman

        Totally agree with both of you ladies! I actually was going to mention Kristen in this post but also recognize that she catches a lot of flak from the outside world for looking very masculine, and honestly I didn’t really feel like opening that can of worms! I absolutely think that it should be about function, not fashion–although a little flair doesn’t hurt either ;)

  • Jennifer Hudy

    Interesting topic, Claire..

    Since it’s a billion degrees in our box lately, I’ve become comfortable rocking the booty shorts. Does the fact I think I have a nice booty make it easier? Absolutely.

    I had a conversation with one of the guys at the box who always ends up shirtless.. and how guys have it easy to just be able to strip off layers of clothing, while women don’t. He said it doesn’t make sense so many women wear tank tops instead of just sports bras.. but I think until I have the comfort with my belly to match the booty, it’s just how it has to be.. lol.

    Not at all about modesty (though I totally get that).. but more about self confidence, I suppose.

    • clairechapman

      Haha you DO have a nice booty! And I would agree that 90% of the time I’m not comfortable WODing without a shirt on, either–and frankly I sometimes feel like, especially at my gym, the guys just take their shirts off because they can and not because it necessarily benefits their performance in any way. The girls, however, almost always keep their shirts on, and I think for some it is a modesty issue but for most it is just a comfort thing. I wouldn’t want to be peeling a sweaty belly off the floor during burpees, or catching a wall ball with a sweaty chest (gross). Apart from function, self-confidence absolutely plays a roll. I’ve mentioned this in a few other comments, but this time last year I wasn’t even comfortable wearing tank tops in public because I didn’t like my arms, but now I will wear a tank top any chance I get. I think what I was trying to get at was that it’s important to wear what you WANT to wear, not what you feel like the CrossFit community as a whole “expects” you to wear or what you “should” wear to look like a CrossFitter.

  • dejablue

    As someone whose body has changed DRASTICALLY since starting crossfit/paleo, I get both sides. I used to be constantly covered up and overly-aware of my body. Now, that’s less of an issue. I’m still relatively modest, though, and usually wear capri spandex to work out in. However, as the weather turns warm and we do a lot of outdoor workouts, it’s just TOO DARN HOT! The shorts and sports bra aren’t for looks on my end (though it’s nice to feel confident in the muscles showing!) but because the sticky sweaty uncomfortable feeling is not fun. The less clothes, the more air and breathability.. that’s where it’s at for the girls at my box!

    • clairechapman

      Nice! I agree! I think that functionality is definitely the most important part–I definitely am not throwing my shirt off in the middle of a 5:30AM WOD in February… and I really think that the important thing is your intention. If you are wearing something because it is comfortable and functional, then wear whatever you want… as long as it’s truly what you WANT to be wearing and not because you feel like you “should” be running around shirtless :)

  • Marisa

    For me, it’s partly a modesty thing, but also partly a self-confidence thing. Although I do feel that people should be able to wear what they want, to the extent that revealing clothing is the Crossfit “uniform”, people who don’t feel comfortable wearing such revealing clothing may therefore feel uncomfortable with Crossfit. As the girl who wore jeans through Georgia hot summers for years rather than wear shorts and reveal what I thought were unsightly legs (and would now kill to have again), I personally don’t feel comfortable doing a lot of Crossfit movements that in short shorts. I’ve been doing Crossfit for a year, and still don’t have the legs I’d need to feel comfortable enough to wear booty shorts. As one of the previous comments noted, as the temperatures get warmer, it means being hotter and uncomfortable, possibly overheating or choosing not to work out because you’ll overheat in the longer pants. I understand that this choice is largely self-imposed, but if the Crossfit culture were a bit different and was more accepting of ratty t-shirts, long baggy shorts, etc., there wouldn’t be the psychological discomfort of looking like you don’t belong, and therefore less impediment to actually showing up and completing the WOD. I completely understand the desire to show off how hard you’ve worked to earn your muscles. But, for those still working on the muscles, we’re feeling a bit hot in the less revealing clothes until we get the confidence to wear those shorts. (Thankfully, after 31 years, I’ve finally found Nike Tempo Running shorts that provide a little extra modesty on the butt and they are going to completely revamp my hot-as-hell workouts this summer.)

    • Danielle

      I feel pretty much the same way as you do. I am terribly self conscious about my thighs and I’m pretty sure I’m the only person in my box still wearing pants to work out. I never wear shorts out of my house – not even to garden in my own back yard and the thought of doing the majority of the crossfit movements in a pair of mid thigh shorts let alone a pair of booty shorts gives me knots in my stomach. I’d probably spend so much time worrying about what my thighs looked like I’d completely botch my work out and end up injuring myself. I would be lying though if I ddn’t say that one of my goals is to be comfortable enough to work out in a pair of shorts. Whether that comes from my thighs actually getting smaller or my self confidence growing larger it’s definetly something I believe crossfit can help me accomplish.

      • clairechapman

        I have to admit that the first few times I wore booty shorts to the gym, I was SO self-conscious. I felt ok walking around my house in them but as soon as I showed up at the box I felt really nervous and even a little embarrassed! It took me seeing a fellow gym member wear them, who has a very similar body type to me, and thinking she looked awesome, to realize that I was being overly critical of myself and needed to just let it happen. Honestly my legs have not changed that much in the past year, but what has definitely changed is my attitude about what my legs can DO and where people can stick it if they have something to say about it :)

  • Kate Stevenson

    I was really excited to see someone writing about this topic. I grew up in a Christian home and went to Christian school and still pursue a relationship with God. This topic has come up recently in my family and in my fiance’s circle of friends. My mom always scoffed at women running in sports bras around our neighborhood. Her attitude seemed to be that they were just doing that so men in the neighborhood would see them. This year I ran my first half marathon. And my sister and I went for a run on a hot day. Half way through I was super hot and she said, “Just take off your shirt. I won’t tell mom.” It clicked with me that no matter if it’s super hot or super cold, I dress to run. Sometimes that means covering my whole head and wearing gloves and sometimes it means shorts and a sports bra and a fuel belt. I’m equipping myself for whatever will help me to perform safely.

    Fast forward to few months later where my fiance’s roommates were talking about women who wear yoga pants and women who workout in just a sports bra. They were appalled at women in just sports bras much like my mom. And I said, “It’s hot. A man can take his shirt off to mow the lawn when it’s hot. Why can’t a woman just wear a sports bra?” He replied, “It’s like being in underwear.” And I said, “Well then I guess women shouldn’t go swimming either.” That quickly shut him up. Overall, what makes me so annoyed is that there is an assumption that we as women are choosing our outfits all based on attention, when really we choose them based on the activity we are doing. And if I happen to feel awesome and confident in whatever it is, that’s just bonus.

    • clairechapman

      Yep yep yep. I think that there definitely ARE some women who dress in an eye-catching way because of just that–they want to catch someone’s eye. But for the most part, I think that most of us are just trying to find something that is functional and comfortable. Plus, I don’t want to feel like I need to hide my femininity while working out, so maybe I will pick something a little girlier or a little tighter rather than wearing a paper bag and looking like a teenage boy…

    • C-K

      Well if you are talking about dressing from the Christian standpoint, then you need to look at what the Bible says…be modest and don’t be like the world. Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit…Some people have different versions of what modesty is but just think in whatever you do glorify God. Am I glorifying God by showing off nearly all of my body right now? Hmm… food for thought.

      • Kate

        But it’s how people interpret it. Everyone will interpret it slightly differently. What irks me is Christian men having such strong opinions about what women wear when they’re exercising (definitely good for the temple), but if that same outfit is for swimming it’s fine.

        • Kristy Brissette

          many of these men still go around with the attitude a woman just wants attention, and can get it and get laid whenever they want…. truth is, they are just as jealous in a different way then the jealousy that’s very familiar… to all us women, whether because one is funnier or hotter or smarter or dressed better or just simply some cool down to earth chick…we’re used to that….women need to shut the hell up and team up, we have enough controversy and stress in this world…. There are other countries and places where nudity and toplessness is allowed, not enough women are “man” pardon my French, to actually do it…there would have to be a serious sports bra, braless, movement.. lol.. but really, those women going through menopause… if you don’t like nice firm breasts, or saggy one or one big one with no damn nipple, don’t look, pretend its your damn mom and grow a heart.. maybe if more men reverted to real men who had emotions and exhibited charm, charisma, and chivalry, they wouldn’t care about the attention women were getting, they would be getting it… (of course.. there are exceptions to everything…butttt… I would love a man or more so a woman…. to say that shit to me, especially one wearing something, uncomfortable to “not draw attention”. How many times have you women out there heard (I know I have many times) that many men like mystery.. to an extent… and working out, is fair game to me… if I could go topless completely, I would, sweaty uncomfortable bras, because heaven forbid the nipples show right ladies? Padded. tight, some underwire… either way, dudes, we wouldn’t EVER get those damn heat pimples or rashes if we could be more free! AND women take sexy pics when they feel good (these days) to show off….. we aren’t showing off if we are sweating usually… unless its a boxing match and im knocking you out while in my sports bra as you mumble some sexist comment too low for the ref to hear… and then what? how does it feel to get knocked out by a woman, … ohhhh you were “distracted” well then stop checkin us out… and hey how about we get the damn gov. to pay us equally for equal work while we’re at it….one more thing however, most women love attention, and if you men out there don’t wanna look don’t look..hard concept..isn’t it? that’s why we (the women) are smarter than jk most of us just saying if you don’t want that bimbo with Baywatch boobs popping out, don’t look (ya right…..anyyyyway) just don’t get mad when she doesn’t want you, cuz youre “out of her league” whatever that means…….

  • Throttle-her

    You had me until this…
    And most people in there put months and years into growing their muscles
    and reducing their body fat–they have earned the right to show off
    their bodies.

    You know what, anyone has a right to show off whatever they want. Regardless of who is watching, husbands, wives, whatever. This is the expansion of the culture you need. There is not some magical point where it is okay for someone to wear what they want to wear, regardless of whether they have “earned” it or not. You just wear it. You might look good in it, you might not. But if you like it, rock it like no one is watching.

    • clairechapman

      Thanks for pointing this out, and I totally agree with you. And I don’t think that “growing their muscles and reducing their body fat” has to mean that they are ripped or toned, but can relate to any physique you are proud to show off!

  • jezbanana

    My personal modesty levels seem to be verrrrrrry adjustable according to temperature and sun risk. (I was never ever ever going to have my belly out in public until it hit 95 degrees and 95% humidity when I was training in Australia, for example. Then I was quite happy for anyone driving by to see me and my cellulite.) In the wider, non-temperature context, I tend to balk whenever anyone tries to dictate my clothing in any direction – I remember being very put out at high school track meets that my shorts were SO DAMN SHORT and god forbid anyone see my thighs like that, but I also know I’d be roaringly indignant if anyone told me to put away my bare shoulders, hot day or not. I think we should just arbitrarily set down a rule that as long as we are not (a) Britney Spears flashing the camera or (b) wearing a burqa, it’s all good. Or hell, flash the camera or wear a burqa if you want – I can’t think of a reason why either of those things are bad unless you demand that everyone else do the same.

    • clairechapman

      Haha I love it. I think that is totally the right attitude to have. Wear whatever you want, don’t give a crap what anyone else is wearing, and just go about your life! I definitely don’t think this is an issue unless you reach a point where you feel like you are second-guessing your choices because of other people’s expectations.

  • Lady Loudpants

    Successfully rocking booty shorts and a sports bra is a badge of accomplishment. Whether we want to admit it or not, being comfortable (physically and mentally) in such fitness wear is one of the goals of a CrossFitter–Even if that means we only wear them in our house with no one home. The beauty of CrossFit is that it is a level playing field. Everyone is doing the same exercise and if women earned that body doing the same exercises at the same time as myself, then it stands to reason that someday, I will be one of those women. Those bodies are HARD to get and require extreme commitment and those women should be proud of that accomplishment. I know I will be and as a mother of two young daughters, lean muscle as the ultimate body ideal is not unreasonable. It equals healthy.

    • clairechapman

      Totally! I love that a lot of people have brought up just loving that they feel comfortable enough to even wear those things just for themselves. A year ago I didn’t even feel comfortable in tank tops, let alone booty shorts, and even outside of my physical changes, I see my my new self esteem as an accomplishment in itself. Also, way to be a role model for your daughters! I hope I can do that one day!

  • swimaholic

    The subtext of this article is that if one works out a lot and eats healthy, then one will automatically look great in a pair of short shorts. I have spent months and years eating healthy and working out regularly and would look terrible in short shorts. While many people’s exercise programs have the added benefit of giving them a great body, some of us are left to work hard with minimal visible results. Thus, this idea that some people have EARNED the right to wear a skimpy to the outfit to the gym undermines those of us who work just as hard, but don’t get the same results as far as appearance goes.

    • clairechapman

      I think you’re totally right. After reading through these comments I wish I would have used a different example for “earning” your body, because I really believe that having “earned” it can mean anything from looking like Christmas Abbott to having earned a new level of self-confidence and, along with it, a new appreciation for your big thighs. I definitely think that what is most important about “looking great” in a pair of booty shorts is your attitude when you are wearing them–if you own it, you can pull them off no matter what, but on the other hand, even if you have great legs, if you are tugging at them and fidgeting the whole time, it will be obvious that you should have made a different choice!

  • Sharde Davis

    Wear what makes you feel comfortable. Your comfort level is all that matters. I wear booty shorts all over my apartment, but when it comes to running I make sure to wear the running shorts (extra short) of course. I love it. When I get to my tip top shape, I will be a booty shorts wearing machine!

    • clairechapman

      Hahaha love it! I first tried wearing booty shorts to a WOD last fall and was super self-conscious, but I’ve slowly learned to love them (and my thighs), and pretty sure I would live in them if I could…

  • Rose McMackin

    I guide and I usually wear volley ball shorts on the river (except in Utah because noting but total coverage will save you there). But I definitely wonder about them a lot… Funnily enough, I’ve had male managers who have told me not to wear them and male managers who have said, “Wear what you want. Be you. It’s your body.” But all the women I’ve worked for have considered it to be so obviously my choice as to not even be worth talking about. Great topic.

    • clairechapman

      That’s a super interesting point to bring up to–that other women typically accept what you’re wearing because it is obvious among the community of women if your intentions are to be comfortable or if your intentions are to get attention. If it is the former, we can definitely tell and don’t care–if it’s the latter, we can also definitely tell! And as for men… who knows what they are thinking…

  • Ashley

    Very interesting topic. I don’t care what others wear in the gym as it’s their choice. For me I do not feel comfortable wearing booty shorts or just a sports bra. It really isn’t due to religion. I am just a modest person and I don’t feel like the need to get that type of attention from males at the gym. I think wearing super short shorts would make me uncomfortable during my workout.

    • clairechapman

      It’s crazy how much this has changed for me over the past year. This time last year I didn’t even feel comfortable wearing a sleeveless shirt in public because I felt self-conscious about my arms, and now I try to wear tank tops as much as possible. I wore booty shorts to the box for the first time last fall, and spent the whole WOD tugging at them and feeling awkward. Now I feel awesome in them but I agree that it should just be about what you are comfortable in!

  • Jana

    I am fairly new to Crossfit. The women at the gym I attend dress pretty conservatively (I don’t think I’ve ever seen booty shorts or sports bras) and I appreciate that. I am so impressed with their strength and perseverance. WOW! I workout with a powerful group of women. They encourage and uplift. They inspire me to work harder than I ever thought possible. I don’t need to see their muscles to be impressed with their strength. I know how powerful they are. Their strength comes from within.

    • clairechapman

      That is an amazing way to look at it, Jana. Thank you so much for this!

  • Jennifer Burns

    Loved reading this. I CF and my normal uniform is a tank top, booty shorts and knee socks. At first I thought it was just for show, but then after a while, I realized the functionality (the booty shorts allow for more range of motion and the socks are so you don’t scrape the crap out of your shins on box jumps and deadlifts). I still refuse to get down to a sports bra, however – no one at our box does this and if I don’t have a tank top, where will I wipe my excess sweat and chalk?!
    Also, all thoughts of modesty go out the door when it’s 100 degrees in the box and you’re just trying to survive a wod. I’m there to get at it and not care how cute I am while doing so.

  • Terri

    This is something that I am dealing with as I have started to really become consistent with CrossFit ( this is my second month) the box I am apart of is based around Christian beliefs which I think is great because as a Christian myself I am so thankful for the atmosphere that it sets… The constant encouragement and prayers are wonderful… But I have noticed that a lot of the athletes dress in the more typical CrossFit attire and then there are some that dress in more modest attire capris leggings with t-shirts and the like… It’s a pretty good balance… I don’t know if everyone that comes to the box are Christians and that doesn’t matter what I’m trying to deal with is the balance between my standards on modesty, my comfort level ( I am a bit self-conscience) and what I will wear during a WOD. It’s a balance I am still trying to figure out and will come to when the competitions start coming along… Thanks for the thought-provoking and timely post!!

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  • NJ Paleo

    The whole topic of what to wear when working out or just in general fascinates me. I grew up in a more conservative Christian home where modesty was encouraged, and my church and Christian school encouraged that as well. I decided on my own that I prefer to wear what makes me comfortable and that it’s more important to act as a good person rather than worrying about how much fabric or what type of clothing I’m wearing (and not meaning to offend anyone in any way here…I just don’t like to be told that what I’m wearing is displeasing or pleasing to God or that I’m a bad person for wearing whatever…..).

    In my gym, most of the people in the classes I attend are older — at 43 I’m one of the younger ones but don’t get me wrong, most of these people are super fit and tough — and the “uniform” tends to be capris and sleeveless tanks for women (and these women are all fit). I and a few other women will wear shorts in the hottest months because there is no air conditioning, but some stick with the “uniform”. No one wears just a sports bra. However, when I go running and go to races, I will often just wear a sports bra and shorts. I guess what I’m trying to say is that despite the fact that I say that I will wear what makes me comfortable, sometimes the environment kind of has an influence on my choices. I feel comfortable wearing a sports bra and shorts to a race or running in the neighborhood, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that at my gym….and none of this has anything to do with how I feel about my body, it’s more about the culture of where I am! And believe me, if another woman came into my gym wearing a sports bra and shorts, I’d be the first one to follow suit!

  • Kay -Marie Bingham

    I am relatively new to crossfit but am very much loving it. I still wear cropped leggings at my box and a t-shirt which for me is quite a lot of clothes. My other love is pole dancing and I think nothing of walking around a dance studio in a bikini top and booty shorts but that’s because I have the confidence to there. At my box I am still mastering all the different exercises but I dare say once I feel like I can perform everything with good form and when the temperature picks up the booty shorts will make an appearance at the box too.
    Actually thinking about it, I live in the Norht East of Scotland so they probably won’t lol

  • kneazle

    I hate being “complemented” on my “modesty”. My level of privacy or anyone’s level of privacy and comfort is their own business. I want nothing to do with the culture of blame… usually it’s the blaming of women for the thoughts and feelings of others. It needs to end.

  • thecooker241 .

    I tear my shorts off to reveal my tighty whities everytime a female wears short shorts at the gym. This terrible fashion has no benefit other than looking like a slut. That’s what you look like woman, a slut. If they can work out in their underwear, so can I.

  • Joey

    Personally, I don’t get how it’s comfortable to be picking your shorts out of your ass during a workout. It’d be really amusing to see the underwear squad do a wod full of mountain climbers lol


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