Critics call United Airlines’ leggings incident body shaming

DENVER -- Critics continued to blast United Airlines on social media Monday for an incident involving three girls wearing leggings, while the airline defended its position and reiterated the legging ban only applied to a small number of travelers.

The incident started Sunday when a United Airlines employee told three girls they could not fly from Denver International Airport to Minneapolis because they were wearing leggings.

The girls were flying on employee travel passes, a perk that enables them to fly for little to no money.

The airline has a dress code for those utilizing those passes. Travelers must look presentable and leggings, along with ripped jeans, flip-flops and sleepwear are not allowed. Pass travelers are allowed to wear jeans and shorts.

Shannon Watts, a gun control advocate with a large social media following, tweeted about the incident and it went viral.

"Sounds like a very gender-based policy that men can wear shorts but girls can't wear leggings," Watts said. "It sexualizes young girls to make them feel like what they are wearing is inappropriate."

United Airlines said its policy does not discriminate against women. In a statement posted to its website on Monday, the airline reiterated that customers are welcome to wear leggings and the restriction only applies to those using travel passes.

Critics on social media called the move body shaming.

Psychologists said singling out young women for their clothing choices can have a profound impact down the road.

"I think it's a message that our culture is going to police how women and girls look," said Anna Ropp, a psychologist and associate professor at Metro State University of Denver.

"What she is wearing is not appropriate. That can easily be explained by other people that she's being too sexual, which is a confusing message for someone that young."

"It can call a lot of attention onto the individually in ways that can feel shaming and can feel derogatory," said Jennifer Batson, a psychologist and primary therapist at EDCare, a treatment center for people who struggle with eating disorders.

"The attire was deemed inappropriate because it was sexualized. Calling attention for what they were wearing is potentially sexualizing them."