Why we need to bring women’s sports uniforms into the 21st century

It’s time to rethink the uniform standards in sport and the design options that allow women and girls the courtesy to compete with confidence, writes Katie lebel, of Ryerson University in this article republished from The conversation.

Imagine that your child falls in love with a sport. Imagine them reveling in the thrill of a good shot, radiating the rush for competitive success. Now imagine their faces after someone tells them that in order to compete they have to wear a bikini bottom with a side width of only 9.9 centimeters.

Welcome to women’s sport.

While sexism is a pervasive problem when it comes to women’s clothing, the chauvinism in sports is abundantly evident.

This demonstration was brought to light recently when the International Handball Federation was called to modify athlete uniform guidelines. their rules stipulated that female beach handball players wear “bikini bottoms that are fitted and cut at an angle up to the top of the leg”, explicitly noting that “the width of the sides” should not exceed 10 centimeters.

Next to a protest by the Norwegian national team, months of pressure and an online petition, the ruling federation finally agreed to change its uniform protocols.

The revised regulations will require women athletes to wear “short, fitted pants”.

The challenges of women’s sport participation

Progress is progress, but it should be noted that the Federation of Handball Men’s uniform policy simply suggests that shorts should not be “too loose”. If optimal athletic performance can be achieved by men in a uniform that is not “too loose”, why don’t women have the same flexibility?

Women and girls face a wide variety of challenges when it comes to sports participation. One of these challenges is that when girls enter adolescence, they drop out of sport at significantly higher rates than boys.

Research has established a surprising 27 point disparity between the respective genders of each gender confidence levels during adolescence, as a characteristic of over-thinking, people are pleasant and perfectionism comes into play.

Have you ever wondered how many girls stop playing sports because they don’t feel comfortable dressing? The number is not zero. It’s time to rethink the uniform standards in sport and the design options that allow women and girls the courtesy to compete with confidence.

Generation Z disruptors

Generation Z disrupts our way of doing sports. As we have seen with the Norwegian team, the next generation of athletes are not afraid to speak out against perceived injustices when they see them. They know how to take advantage of social media like megaphone and valuing diversity and inclusion.

This recipe does not necessarily mix well with conventional sportswear which are traditionally adapted to idealized western femininity.

In a rapidly changing world, sports that ignore the growing diversity of our society, evolving social psychologies and broader cultural reassessments will not only lose credibility, they will also lose participants.

Sports organizations need to embrace diversity and work with brands to make sportswear that takes into account all shapes, sizes and origins, giving athletes the options they deserve.

Diversifying organizational leadership will help. It’s hard to know who you might be marginalizing if your decision making doesn’t reflect diversity.

Men in orange uniforms play beach volleyball
Men’s beach handball uniforms allow for much greater coverage. (Shutterstock)

When you feel good you play well

It turns out that science supports the idea that when you feel good, you play well. And that could be a game-changer when it comes to our approach to women’s sportswear.

The term “coated cognition” was coined by organizational psychologist Hajo Adam and social psychologist Adam Galinsky and it describes how clothes affect self-perception. The work of Adam and Galinsky captured this phenomenon in a three-part experiment where participants were presented with a white coat with different explanations.

At one stage of the experiment, participants wearing and believing they were wearing a doctor’s lab coat performed mental agility tests with fewer errors than those wearing and believing they were wearing painter’s coats. They also outperformed participants in normal attire. The researchers concluded that “there seems to be something special about the physical experience of wearing a garment.”

With that in mind, reinventing sportswear for women and girls could be revolutionary for their psychological and behavioral experiences. This can impact their sense of belonging, attitude, mood and performance.

Sex doesn’t sell

Research has repeatedly confirmed that sex does not “to sell.” Talent sells. And if we don’t properly equip women in sport, have we even realized the full extent of talent that might exist?

The Norwegian handball athletes noted that their tight bikini bottoms made them feel uncomfortable and objectified. They also explicitly expressed their fear that uniform mandates would distract young athletes from their sport.

Highlighting the gender norms embedded in women’s sports uniforms, the researchers Sarah Zipp and Sasha Sutherland noted that uniform designs are less likely to be performance-focused and more likely to meet “male gaze. “

This has the unfortunate effect of unfairly prioritizing the aesthetic appeal of women over their athletic talent. This superficial approach completely neglects the multiplicity of morphologies and cultural nuances. It is also completely arbitrary.

Women in beach volleyball bikinis dive to try to block a goal.
Women’s uniforms often prioritize the aesthetic appeal of women over their athletic ability. (Shutterstock)

Sport is important. They can help girls grow up healthy and confident, and they teach a wide range of soft skills like determination and work ethic.

Ernst & Young found that 94 percent of female executives reported playing sports – which means that girls who play sports are more likely to become women who lead.

While the style and fit of sportswear may seem like a minor detail in the larger scheme of things, what if it isn’t? Let women and girls dress for the role they want to play in women’s sport. And when outdated uniform policies get in your way, don’t be afraid to take a page out of Team Norway’s book – speak up and say enough is enough.

Katie lebel, Assistant Professor, Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University

This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read it original article.

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