Honestly, Why On Earth Aren't Sports Bras Part Of All Teen Girls' PE Kits?!

Make it make sense.
Sports bras are not mentioned on most PE kit lists.
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Sports bras are not mentioned on most PE kit lists.

When I reflect on my time doing PE (aka physical education) at secondary school, it makes me squirm.

As a bright-eyed Year 7, we were given a list as long as our arms with all the kit we needed for the start of term. Blazers, trousers, skirts, ties, jumpers, and then the PE kit: the polo shirts, joggers and gym knickers (the latter was my idea of hell in a garment, ’cause you really want to be wearing teeny pants when you’re a self-conscious pre-teen).

There was no mention of sports bras being an essential for PE – despite most of us having boobs at that point in time (no matter how big or small). And sadly it seems that’s still the case for many teen girls.

In fact, 84% of school girls say sports bras aren’t on their kit lists, according to a survey by Women in Sport and activewear brand Stronger. This means just 36% of girls aged 11-18 wear a sports bra when participating in PE or sport at school.

The impact of not wearing sports bras is wide-ranging

Anyone with boobs will know how difficult it is to really move when you’re wearing an ordinary bra. There’s a lot of jiggling and sometimes breasts manage to free themselves – which is embarrassing at the best of times, but especially when you’re a teen.

It’s also very much a health issue. As Dr Teodora Gratziela Crisovan previously told Stylist: “As breasts are made of tissue that is supported largely by skin and Cooper’s ligaments [bands of flexible connective tissue that shape and support your breasts], they require support during exercise.

“If they don’t get that, it can lead to severe backache, sagging and irreparable damage to the ligaments and tissue.” And this is the case no matter how large or small a person’s breasts are.

Not wearing sports bras can also have a negative impact on a girl’s experience of sport, with more than two-thirds (69%) admitting they cannot jump or run about freely and 72% saying they feel self-conscious about movement or bounce.

Most girls believe they’re essential

Of the 1,000 secondary school girls questioned, 84% believe it’s essential to wear the right bra for sport and exercise, yet more than half (57%) of girls wear their ordinary bra during sport.

Not owning a sports bra (37%) and the expense of sports bras (19%) are among the reasons for not wearing one – such bras can cost anywhere between £10 and £50.

But a lack of knowledge and education about their changing bodies also plays a part, with 45% of girls admitting to not thinking about wearing a sports bra for PE.

Lots of girls are falling out of love with sport

There is a real problem when it comes to getting girls in particular to engage with sport and PE in their teens – and it’s through no fault of their own. A previous survey by Women in Sport found more than one million teenage girls who once considered themselves ‘sporty’ disengaged from sport following primary school.

Mostly this is due to a fear of feeling judged by others (68%), as well as lack of confidence (61%), pressures of schoolwork (47%) and not feeling safe outside (43%).

The latest research reveals that adding further fuel to this fire is the fact other items of PE kit can make adolescent girls feel uncomfortable. Girls aged 15-18-years-old feel PE kit is not suitable to wear when having a period (69%), dislike wearing shorts or skorts (60%) and feel self-conscious (63%) in the required clothing.

They also anecdotally reported that gendered school PE kits made them feel ‘sexualised’.

Wearing sports bras makes a big difference

While the matter of having access to sports bras might seem like a relatively small thing, it could mean the difference between a teen girl exercising or not.

The latest survey found when girls do wear a sports bra for exercise there is a significant increase in their levels of comfort (80%), confidence (45%), and ability to run and jump without anxiety (46%).

Boxer Fran Hennessy is now leading a petition calling for the UK Government to subsidise sports kit, including sports bras, for girls from lower-income families, in order to give girls a more positive experience during PE and sports lessons.

“I wear a sports bra almost daily, which I am lucky enough to be able to afford,” said the boxer. “It’s upsetting that many girls can’t, who have dreams of a professional sporting career.

“Sports bras are such an essential part of kit and they should be on all girls’ kit lists, no question. Without better access and education around sports bras, we could be jeopardising girls’ sporting careers, as they won’t feel comfortable or confident enough to excel in their chosen sport at a young age.”

“Sports bras are such an essential part of kit and they should be on all girls’ kit lists, no question.”

- Fran Hennessy

And it’s not just about sporting careers, it’s about setting girls up so they actively enjoy sports and exercise, and don’t see it as a chore in later life, which will only have positive repercussions for their overall health.

Stephanie Hilborne, CEO of Women in Sport, said: “Throughout their lives, girls are bombarded with messaging about how their bodies should look rather than about what their bodies can do.

“When girls then face female puberty and the onslaught of social media, the very least we should do is to ensure our girls have suitable, supportive clothing to move their bodies without fear of being judged or feeling pain.”

Sport is not only physically beneficial, but it can also boost mental health, which is hugely important given the immense pressure teens find themselves under.

“By failing to provide girls with the right clothing we are perpetuating the exclusion of girls from sport,” said Hilborne.

“Schools should include sports bras on their uniform lists and give girls a voice and choice in the sports kit that is right for them, so they can enjoy the joy and freedom of sport and exercise.”