The idea of a “dress code” was introduced to me in 2010 when I began attending Alice Deal Middle School. Shorts, skirts, and dresses above your fingertips, shirts with straps less than 2-inches wide, bra straps, and shoes without shoelaces were not to be tolerated. At the time I didn’t really understand what it meant to have my body be a distraction to boys, or why it was my job to cover up the straps of bras I had barely gotten used to by age 12, or why I had to wear long pants or shorts, even in 90 degree heat. Now that I’m 17, I know what people mean when they say my body may become a distraction to others, but I’m still confused as to why it’s my fault if it does.
Originally, dress codes were implemented in schools so that they could maintain professional environments. And to be quite honest, if maintaining professionalism were what dress codes aimed to do, students probably wouldn’t complain about them so much. But unfortunately, most dress codes, including Wilson’s, have become less about professionalism and more about something else.
Whether the school administration sees it or not, the dress code has become a statement that says “GIRLS: You may NOT show your skin no matter how confident you feel because YOUR BODY IS A DISTRACTION and should be covered!”
School administrators may never admit it, but the “dress-coding” I have personally experienced has been nothing less than sexist body shaming.
“When you are getting reprimanded for your body and not your clothing, then it becomes problematic,” says sophomore Franny Sewell. I couldn’t agree more.
Female students are not the only ones who think the dress code is sexist. Senior Henry Cohen calls the dress code a “disgusting policy, [and] a catalyst for body shaming, sexism, and even racism.” Cohen also mentions that he has “seen an administrator single out a girl in front of other students in a predatory fashion” several times, which brings up a whole other issue with girls being scolded for showing too much skin: It makes us feel extremely uncomfortable and unsafe when adults look and judge our bodies that way.
As Sewell points out, being told your outfit is inappropriate, especially when it’s an outfit you feel good in, can feel awful. While school is not meant to be a fashion show, or a place to show off, going through the day feeling confident is important.
“To be feeling so confident and pretty [in an outfit] and to have one remark tear that all down,” says Sewell, “is one of the worst feelings.”
Getting called out in the hallway in front of your peers or to be taken out of class is not only embarrassing, it’s also a waste of time. One day earlier this year, I was personally taken out of class and sent down to my dean because my outfit, which consisted of long sleeves and pants, showed 2 inches of my stomach. I missed 30 minutes of the 45-minute period, which happened to be my most difficult class, just so that a dean could tell me to cover up those 2 inches of skin.
I was told that my outfit was distracting, but the message was clear. It wasn’t my clothing that was “inappropriate” or “distracting,” it was me. It was the curves and hips I was born with that I was told were distracting and absolutely had to be covered up, or I would be in trouble.
How is that an okay message to send to students?
Many girls happen to have hips, and curves, and other body parts that are considered “distractions” or provocative by design. But we can’t help the way our bodies are built, and we should not be required to cover up if we don’t want to. Especially when girls who aren’t as curvaceous are not reprimanded for showing skin because their bodies are, I guess, less distracting.
A fellow Wilson student and friend of mine once told me that she was dress coded for wearing a short shirt and another girl who was wearing the same shirt was not, because her smaller chest size was not as much of a distraction.
Dress codes are not altogether stupid or pointless, and are probably not written with the intention of shaming female students, and of course a line must be drawn to keep the school environment a professional one (for example; I wouldn’t wear a bikini to school). But the way dress codes are interpreted and enforced is absolutely not okay. We should be teaching girls to love themselves, and that they can wear whatever they feel happy and comfortable in. Instead, dress codes that single out female students teach girls that their bodies are negatively affecting other people’s ability to learn or do their job, and that they should be ashamed of how they look.
If helping students learn is really what educators want to do, they should know that learning is much easier when I can focus on my work, and not what the administration thinks of my shorts.
PHOTO BY MAYA EDWARDS