"Miss, why have I got to wear this P.E. kit!" The international edition.
We’ve all heard it, lessons come around and the girls don’t feel comfortable in their kit. Inevitably, leading to girls disengaging and the lesson taking a turn for the worst.
Feeling comfortable whilst taking part in physical activity is something fairly obvious to continued participation. As soon as clothing starts to create barriers, it’s a losing battle to try and re-engage girls. P.E kits could be too tight, too baggy, scratchy or unsupportive and most likely highlighting insecurities around body image.
Anyway, why am I making this point? Well, there are some incredible athletes making some very important points about what we compete in and ultimately is their argument much different to the girls not comfortable in their P.E kits?
Two international teams this year have made the headlines in a stand against the over-sexualisation of women in elite sport and in protest against sexist regulations.
The Norweigan Beach Handball Team opted for shorts over the regulatory mandated bikini bottoms at the European Beach Handball Championships and have received a £1,295 fine for wearing ‘improper uniform’. This move by the European Handball Federation has been widely criticised as sexist by some huge stars - no less than Pink and Billie Jean King, with Pink offering to pay the fine on the team’s behalf.
Before pulling the stunt, the Team actually petitioned the tournament organisers to wear shorts and were denied the opportunity. These women voiced their concerns over the uniform regulations, that they were uncomfortable in what they were being required to wear but were still cornered into obliging the outdated regulations. And according to other reports, petitions like these have been blocked since 2006!
In a similar fashion, the German Women’s Gymnastics Team opted for full length unitards as opposed to the bikini cut leotards traditionally worn by female gymnasts. Unitards offer an added level of security to women who could be performing moves leading to unwanted exposure of their bodies and is also more in line with the men’s uniforms. The team decided they would feel more comfortable in these outfits and received widespread support for their move.
So I’m not saying that P.E. kits are inherently sexist nor are they typically over-sexualised. However, these women have taken a stand to speak about how prescribed uniforms makes them feel uncomfortable when participating in sport and this is where it links back to my very first paragraph.
So if you are consistently hearing how much your girls hate their P.E. kits, then it’s about time we take a step back and start listening. As teachers, can we lobby the senior leadership team to review the uniform policy? Can we co-design new policies with students to embrace their views? Can we empower them to make the changes they need to be more active?
If we choose to offer flexibility on what girls wear in lessons, girls will feel more comfortable and we help girls to join lessons with the right mindset to take part.