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School Dress Codes: More Harmful Than Your “Too Short” Skirt

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women's legs wearing a black skirt

If you are (or were) one of the 23% of students forced to wear uniforms to school, you know how restrictive and totally uncool they are.

For the remaining 77% of students lucky enough to not be in uniform daily, most schools enforce a dress code under the veil of providing a safe learning environment free of distractions. Understandably, they are usually strict and lengthy; a school has to cover its ass, you know! (Pun intended.)

I’m not going to argue that dress codes and uniforms are inherently bad and don’t serve a purpose. Unless you plan on working from home, dress codes will likely be ingrained in the rest of your life. I know teenagers are a rebellious bunch and that specific rules are created with that in mind, but having biased, arbitrary regulations and vague measurements make no sense. In essence, the dress code should promote appropriate attire for the specific venue that is more or less common sense. Suggestions: Don’t wear your PJs to the office. Don’t come to school in just your underwear. That sort of thing.

The problem with many school dress codes, aside from stifling individuality in the name of perpetuating civility in the classroom, are that they are often heavily targeted toward females and are usually incredibly vague and open to interpretation. Administration reserves the right to pass judgement on what is appropriate and what is not, and the ruling usually varies based on body type and ethnicity. When the slut-shaming monster rears its ugly head, things get a little out of hand.

And things have been getting out of hand quite frequently lately.

Recently, three ladies at Mount Healthy High were turned away from their prom for the way they were dressed. School officials claimed the ladies were wearing dresses that were too short and exposing too much skin, which was explicitly prohibited by the prom’s dress code. The girls and their mothers stated that they believed they were well within their rights to wear that attire and didn’t think it violated the dress code.

young black women in prom dresses

The school’s principal remarked on the topic by saying, “’No school in the country would allow kids in dressed like that.” According to the dress code, “Inappropriate dresses that are too short in length or reveal excess cleavage will not be permitted.” It also states that you are not allowed to see the curvature of the breasts in the dress at all.

What exactly does that vague statement mean? It doesn’t give measurements as to what’s too short, and I don’t even know how to begin to quantify “excessive cleavage.” The two girls pictured are in dressed that are above the knee, but short prom dresses are in style. The lady wearing the strapless dress can hardly be blamed for being well-endowed and properly filling out a nice dress. And honestly, when you have large breasts, it isn’t your fault if you have cleavage; it’s practically unavoidable.

These prom girls aren’t the only ones on the receiving end of degrading dress code rules. At Capistrano Valley High, students were forced to undergo what some students referred to as a “degrading” clothing inspection before being allowed into a dance. The girls were made to flap their arms about under male teacher inspection. One student claims the principal told her “Not all dresses look good on certain body shapes,” which is an inappropriate statement if I’ve ever heard one.

A New Jersey middle school made the news after it banned strapless dresses from dances because it made girls look “inappropriate,” and — yet again — was distracting to other students, although they failed to specify how. Next on the list is a school in California that banned tight pants, citing that it was distracting to the male students. The school’s girls were informed of the rule change at an assembly where the boys were not in attendance. Not their problem, right? Another school in Minnesota expressed concern to parents and requested that they stop letting their daughters wear yoga pants or leggings because it too closely defined their backside and caused a distraction to other students. Administrators are totally cool with them pairing leggings and long shirts though, because it doesn’t have the same effect.

The absolute worst case to make headlines comes from Georgia, where a kindergarten student was forcefully changed from her clothes because they thought her skirt was too short. They also claimed it was distracting to students. Shocker.

Can we stop hiding behind the noncommittal “distracting to students” excuse?

I feel that we can’t begin to rid ourselves of rape culture as long as schools should focus on demonizing the female body. By screeching that women should cover their breasts and wear loose clothing because they will be a distraction to their peers is reimposing a stigma that women should be objectified sexually, and that poor little boys can’t help but stare and be distracted. It’s teaching young women that they are to blame for their bodies and to be ashamed of the way they look.

The problem here is not women, and teaching them to be regarded as sexual objects in need of covering lest they be assaulted or ogled is not the solution. The logical answer is to move away from the long-instilled ideas of rape culture and teach children to respect one another, be responsible for their actions and embrace their self-image.

Originally published on Feminspire.



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