The Norwegian women’s beach handball team were fined by the European Handball Federation on Monday because the players were wearing shorts and not the required bikini bottoms. The choice to cover up with shorts came after their requests to change the bikini bottom rule went unrecognized. The choice of uniform is important not only because it reflects the personal preferences of players, but because research indicates that there may be a link between revealing clothing and mental and physical performance.
The rules of the International Handball Federation state that female athletes must wear bikini bottoms, “with a cut close to the body and a cut slanting upwards towards the top of the leg”. Male beach handball players have a lot more flexibility. Men’s rules state that “the players’ shorts, if not too wide, may be longer but must remain 10 centimeters above the kneecap. A spokeswoman for the International Handball Federation, Jessica Rockstroh, told the New York Times that she didn’t know the reason for the period.
After complaining about the bikini bottom rule for fifteen years, the Norwegian women’s handball team wore shorts for Sunday’s bronze medal match against Spain at the European Beach Handball Championships. For breaking the rules, each Norwegian player was fined 150 euros (around $ 177). The Norwegian Handball Federation is considering footing the bill.
It is especially important for athletes to be able to perform at their peak, and research indicates that the self-awareness that comes from wearing revealing clothing can impact performance (especially for women). Psychologists call this awareness of one’s own body self-objectification. Girls and women are made to think about how others perceive their bodies, which in turn can make women more concerned with their own physical appearance.
This focus on your own appearance can adversely affect your cognitive and physical abilities. In one study, half of the participants were asked to try on a sweater and the other half on a swimsuit. Then they were asked to solve math problems. Men performed well in both conditions, but women wearing swimsuits performed worse on math problems than women wearing sweaters. The researchers say that swimsuits made women focus on their physical appearance, which uses mental resources. This left less mental resources that could be used to solve math problems. The researchers say the effect is worse for women because of the “greater cultural demands placed on women to achieve the ideals of physical attractiveness.”
Other research indicates that focusing on your body not only impacts your cognitive abilities, but can impact your physical abilities as well. A study that looked at women throwing a ball found that women threw worse after being prepared to think about their bodies. Handball players would certainly have reason to be concerned about this impact on their performance.
When it comes to the rules on what women can and cannot wear, the Norwegian handball team is not alone in being frustrated. From female employees to high school girls, when it comes to the way they cover their bodies, women and girls tend to be more closely watched than their male counterparts. Women are told that their clothes are too revealing or not revealing enough.
In the past two weeks alone, in addition to the Norwegian handball team, Paralympic athlete Olivia Breen said an official called her shorts “too short and inappropriate” and that the Ukrainian ministry Defense had decided that female soldiers should march in high heels in a parade in August. In order for women to achieve parity with men, it is time to stop creating gender rules about how women and men should dress while doing their jobs.