Female athletes around the world have long been talking about feel sexualized by the media and sports fans, often because of the tight and revealing clothing that is usually required of them.
So it was a small but significant victory for the Norwegian women’s beach handball team this week when, in an act of defiance, they chose to wear shorts instead of the standard bikini bottoms. According to Regulations of the International Handball Federation, women’s stockings should have a snug fit and cut at an upward angle towards the top of the leg. In addition, the lateral width of these funds must not exceed 10 cm. The team was eventually fined 150 euros each by the European Handball Federation for this gesture.
We are so proud to have made a statement in the Bronze Final by playing in shorts instead of the mandatory bikini bottom! they said in a statement posted via their official Instagram account. We really hope this results in a change to this absurd rule!
And the nonsense is true, there is a glaring double standard in terms of what clothing women are supposed to wear in sports. The male uniform consists of a tank top and shorts which can be much longer and loose, as long as they stay 10 centimeters above the kneecap.
I knew there was a double standard for the uniforms worn by male and female athletes … but this photo of the Norwegian beach handball team says it all. https://t.co/qdZBKU7pTK pic.twitter.com/KoWdOvecmr
– Dr. Ji Son (@cogscimom) July 20, 2021
But this problem is neither new nor specific to beach handball. Games like tennis, volleyball, track and field, and gymnastics all see women more scantily clad than their male counterparts. And in that sense, there’s a much larger conversation to be had about how women in sports are forced to conform to bizarre rules around their own bodies, often with little-known logic behind the conventions.
Earlier this year, German gymnast Sarah Voss also looked into this question by opting for a full length bodysuit as opposed to the standard leotard.
For us it was important above all to reach young athletes because it is often said that a couple of athletes at the moment do not want to continue in the sport during puberty due to the dress code, Voss said in a statement. .
So how did these rules come into effect in the first place, and what is the reasoning behind them? It has been argued that lighter clothing provides more freedom of movement and allows athletes to stay cool during high temperature outdoor sports. And the obvious question here is: aren’t men hot or do they need to move around freely?
The answer becomes clear when you consider that women’s sport has long existed as a not yet fully accepted subset of what has always been considered a male domain. And when it comes to appearance, female athletes are either masculinized and ridiculed, or propped up as a feast for the eyes of male viewers. Take the 2004 statement by former FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who suggested that women in soccer wear tighter shorts to create a more feminine aesthetic “and increase the popularity of the game.
And with all sports filtered this way through the male gaze, it’s no surprise that sexist, backward-looking rules continue to permeate them, compromising women’s ability to compete in a healthy and fair environment.
Kudos to the Norwegian women’s beach handball team for complying with the rules regarding the hypersexualized uniforms that players are expected to wear when playing. There is no excuse for forcing women to wear tiny bikinis while men can wear shorts. Enough is enough! pic.twitter.com/3j0guEbe8U
– JaneDoeMD (@Caerage) July 21, 2021
After decades of fight to be taken seriously in the world of sport, the impacts of this hyper-sexualization and commodification of women’s bodies can be seriously damaging. A BT Sport 2017 Survey found that 80% of elite female athletes in the UK felt pressure to conform to a certain look and body type, with 87% of respondents saying the pressure to present a certain type of image body had influenced their diet.
More recently, in 2020, 77% of female athletes who responded to the BBC Elite British Sportswoman Poll said they were indeed aware of their body image. (It should be noted here that in Olympic beach volleyball, the rules were changed in 2012 to allow women to choose their own outfits but with such a long history, and the societal expectations placed on female athletes to present themselves in their most hyper-feminized form, how much of a choice is that?)
And with so many calls for change from athletes and women’s groups over the years, it’s hard to imagine why regulators are so reluctant to change these rules. For her part, a spokeswoman for the International Handball Federation, Jessica Rockstroh, said this week that she did not know the reasoning behind the uniform rules, and that they would be examine it internally.
Hopefully, the actions of the Norwegian team and the support it has garnered through social media are signs of progress on this front and a movement towards creating a safer environment for female athletes overall. The sooner these rules disappear, the sooner female athletes will be able to compete in an atmosphere where they feel both valued and secure in something their male peers have long had.
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