What women wear, regardless of the occasion, is always a subject that brings a lot to be talked about. From red carpets to religious garments, we are constantly exposed to women’s outfit choices. However, this obsession is starting to be the main topic in a new domain: sports.
A few weeks ago, the Norwegian women’s beach handball team was in the news because they decided to wear shorts instead of bikini bottoms. According to the European Handball Association’s Disciplinary Commission, their choice to cover themselves with tight and longer shorts was “improper.” While men can wear tank tops and shorts as long as four inches above the knee, women are required by the International Handball Federation to wear bikini bottoms “with a close fit and cut on an upward angle toward the top of the leg.” For that simple choice of clothing, the team was fined 1,500 euros (1,700 USD). Needless to say that the whole world was outraged by this decision. In particular, the singer Pink, who came to their rescue and offered to pay for their fine.
This is not the first time that we encounter this kind of double standard in sports. Back in 2011, the Badminton World Federation attempted to force female players to wear skirts or dresses in order to make them look more feminine and therefore, make the sport more “attractive” to fans and sponsors. Following this new dress code, women could still wear long pants or shorts for religious or cultural reasons, as long as they wear a dress or skirt over them. Meanwhile, male players were simply required to dress in “proper attire.”
On the other side of the coin, when authorities are not trying to undress female athletes, they are, on the contrary, shaming their clothing choices for being too revealing. In the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the paralympic sprinter and long-jumper Olivia Breen was told by an official that her briefs were too short and inappropriate, and that she should consider buying a new pair of shorts. Back in February, German volleyball stars Karla Borger and Julia Sude considered boycotting the FIVB World Tour hosted in Qatar because of the country’s decision not to allow female athletes to wear bikinis, inviting them to wear shirts and long trousers instead.
It all goes back to the mantra “let women wear what they want.” For some reason, society focuses on women’s choices and couldn’t care less about men’s — society, why are you so obsessed with us? And this same society is the first to applaud white women who choose to cover themselves, but have mixed feelings when a Brown or Black woman decides to do the same. Nuns are revered; hijabis are shunned.
This same society is the first to applaud white women who choose to cover themselves, but have mixed feelings when a Brown or Black woman decides to do the same. Nuns are revered; hijabis are shunned.
There is a silver lining in all of this. In this year’s Tokyo Olympics, two-thirds of the 30 females that played badminton wore shorts, while others wore “skorts,” dresses and skirts, and even a hijab. Talking about hijab, Egyptian karate fighter Feryal Abdelaziz won Egypt’s first gold medal since 2004, while wearing hijab.
Abdelaziz was not the first Egyptian to wear a hijab in the Olympics. Back in 2016, at the Rio Olympics, Egypt made their first Olympic appearance in women’s beach volleyball with Doaa El-Ghobashy and Nada Meawad. Instead of the usual bikini bottoms and sport bras, the duo opted for a uniform that would respect their culture and religious beliefs, and allow them to compete. El-Ghobashy was granted the permission to wear her hijab after a last minute decision from the International Volleyball Federation, requested by Amr Elmany, the African Volleyball Confederation chairperson.
Some eyebrows were raised when El-Ghobashy entered the court with her body fully covered, only showing her face and hands. However, that did not shake her down. She said “I respect those who play [volleyball] in bikinis and my competitors respect my choice to play while wearing hijab.” She added that she “opened the door for many hijab-wearing women.”
Muslim women are no strangers to being the target of vestimentary cristicism. We tend to think that Western countries are the ones that have the most to say about hijabs. In France, the use of hijab in public by minors is forbidden as well as in public establishments. Recently, Belgium and Switzerland have also jumped in the wagon. France always justified the ban of the hijab and any other use of religious symbols with the principle of secularism. But one could argue that it is simply a violation to the principle of freedom of religion.
Middle Eastern countries are not exempt from such attitudes. Recently in Lebanon, a group of girls were not allowed to enter a private beach because they were wearing hijab. That sounds even more absurd when we realize that Lebanon is a country where around 60% of the population is Muslim.
However, Middle Eastern countries are not exempt from such attitudes. Recently in Lebanon, a group of girls were not allowed to enter a private beach because they were wearing hijab. That sounds even more absurd when we realize that Lebanon is a country where around 60% of the population is Muslim. On the other hand, in Iran, all women are forced to wear hijabs, and in Qatar you cannot enter the mall if you’re deemed indecent. There is a thin line between respecting countries’ cultures and obliging people, usually women, to dress accordingly.
At the end of the day, it all goes back to that same old story of telling women what they can and can’t wear. What is acceptable and what is not. Whether you’re an athlete or a regular woman, chances are someone is going to tell you what you should and shouldn’t wear. Why is no one policing or sexualizing the clothing of men? Not that we should shift the focus to men — we should completely abolish the conversation around telling people how to dress.