PE departments shouldn’t make girls ashamed of their bodies

27 Jul 2021, 15:30

Women in the Olympics still have their outfits policed more than men – and it’s the same for girls in schools, writes Jules Daulby

The 2021 Olympics sends a positive message to all girls in schools. More GB women than ever before are in Tokyo and these role models could encourage more girls into sport.

But the sports clothing that these female role models wear is often not allowed in school PE departments.

Lycra shorts are a no-no for being too figure hugging, while running shorts banned for being too short.

This is despite these clothes being specifically designed for fast running, strength and agility. Although boys can wear the sports clothing of their heroes, girls it seems must wear men’s sporting clothes in order to be dressed appropriately in school.

Contradictions in women’s clothing also occur in the Olympics. Women are still having their clothing choices policed more than men.

Girls it seems must wear men’s sporting clothes in order to be dressed appropriately

A Norwegian women’s beach handball team were fined because they refused to wear bikini bottoms while their male counterparts wore shorts. Outraged by the misogyny, singer Pink has offered to pay their fines.

Female gymnasts have their leotard length measured so it does not exceed two centimetres below the base of the buttocks. But the German team, fed up with the sexualisation of the sport, have opted for unitards in Tokyo.

It’s not just costumes, hair is also policed. A female black swimmer was banned from wearing a swimming cap designed for Afro hair as the cap was not a ‘natural’ shape.

The Olympic board has since backtracked, realising this rule would never have been made by a black woman with Afro hair as her hair is, of course, a completely natural shape.

‘We are sexualising female puberty’

These contradictory rules and messages often seem dated and farcical. But schools can sometimes send similarly confusing and discriminatory messages to their communities.

It is really important that rules make sense and are created and thought through by a diverse group of senior leaders and governors. They must be checked for discrimination or subliminal sexist messages.

Sadly, many girls stop being interested in sport from the age of 13 and often this is around being embarrassed of their bodies.

If school rules are banning figure hugging shorts when the strong and talented women in the Olympics are wearing the same, what message does this send?

Some tips for​schools in avoiding uniform policing:

  1. Never use terms such as figure hugging or ask girls to protect their modesty.
  2. Are clothing rules equal for all children?
  3. Are you punishing girls for having natural breasts and bums?
  4. Do your uniform rules mean girls are told to be ashamed of their natural bodies?
  5. Think through your clothing and hair rules. Have they been made in collaboration with governors and the community?  Are families with daughters wearing hijabs or Afro hair consulted?

When schools police girls’ PE clothing, it may be that we are sexualising female puberty and shaming them into covering up strength and agility.

But if we follow these tips, we will no longer be. Even more girls may be encouraged to go for gold.


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