Dress Code Drama

Picture this: You’re in seventh grade, your body is changing, it’s confusing, and you’re told to cover it up every day because “it’s distracting.

No shorts. No T-shirts. No jeans except on Fridays. No holes in jeans. Make sure your jeans aren’t too tight. How tight is too tight? Cover your butt completely with a long top, when you wear pants of any kind. Make sure your top is not too low or cropped. How low is too low? Too low sometimes means three fingers below the collarbone. Everybody’s bodies are different. If you wear a skirt it must be no shorter than 2″ above the knee, but once you get to school they will measure it anyways or use the “sticky note method” to be sure that your skirt is showing the least amount of your thigh as possible…..

I attended a small private Christian school with inconsistent and problematic dress code rules. Administration in my school decided that a girls clothing is more important than her education when they choose to implement these rules. Schools nationwide continually choose to prioritize young men’s education over young women’s when they implement these harsh, sexist dress codes.

As a child, I was always told that I needed to cover up, or dress a certain way so that my body was not “distracting” to the boys in my class or even to the male teachers.

I didn’t understand it.

The school emphasized their goal of having a dress code as to prepare students to dress professionally in the workplace. They failed to do this. The reality is that my dress code taught me more things about the patriarchal world that we live in than how to dress professionally. My body became distracting to my classmates every time a teacher measured my skirt in front of the class, or when I changed halfway through the day, or when the same teacher would come into the classroom to check how low my top was in the mornings.

“The idea that girls are somehow responsible for ‘provoking’ harassment from boys is shamefully exacerbated by an epidemic of increasingly sexist school dress codes. Across the United States, stories have recently emerged about girls being hauled out of class, publicly humiliated, sent home, and even threatened with expulsion for such transgressions as wearing tops with ‘spaghetti straps,’ wearing leggings or (brace yourself) revealing their shoulders.”

Laura Bates, Everyday Sexism

It is never okay to tell a child that her body is distracting to a man. This alone makes girls see their bodies as scary and itemized. Instead of educating us about our bodies, they just told us to ignore them and cover them up.

Young girls should go to school feeling empowered in their clothes. Some days I did, and then I was sent home to change or forced to call my mom to bring me different clothes. I was even proud of myself on days when I felt I was dressed appropriately according to the dress code, but it didn’t matter.

I was targeted and checked for my outfit almost daily in middle and high school. Why me and no one else? I asked myself this question everyday back then, and I never understood why. Here’s why: I had bigger boobs than my friends. All my friends were skinnier than me. When they wore their Hollister skinny jeans to school it was acceptable, but when I wore the same pair of jeans, I was forced to wear a long top or told to not wear the jeans again. I was always comparing myself to the girls around me growing up because I simply did not understand how my clothes were distracting and problematic when theirs weren’t.

The dress code rules were inconsistent, and varied from person to person. I remember girls getting in trouble for dress code far more often than guys. Not only are dress code rules already problematic due to the ways that they reinforce the patriarchy and gender binary, but they can also be extremely harmful to young girls who already struggle with body-shaming. There was no place for gender neutral or trans students in our gender binary dress code.

When a women wears a two piece swimsuit, it “looks like her underwear” and “she’s showing too much skin.” When a guy wears swim trunks… there is no issue, even though the same argument could be made. It was comments like these and more that caused me to feel insecure about my body. It was comments like these that encouraged my eating disorder as a child.

My style today is impacted by the ways that I trained myself to cover my body when I was younger. I wear a lot of baggy sweaters and loose jeans. I have an aversion to v-neck T-shirts, and I simply do not feel pretty in them because of comments made about my body as a teenager. It took years for me to recognize that the flaws were in the system and not in my body. I had no one defending me, and time after time I felt silenced until I could no longer stand up for myself. Dress codes do nothing but make young girls feel sexualized, objectified, and unheard.

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