Dress Code

I was on the fall swim team this year, and of course, like any team, we had spirit days before our meets.

I’m not a real “team spirit”-y type person, I, unlike most teenage girls at my school, am satisfied with jeans/shorts and a t-shirt. The rest have a tendency to wear crop tops and blouses and fashion sweaters and silly things like that. And scarves. And jewelry. And makeup. Basically a bunch of things I’m not comfortable with wearing. Jewelry makes noises and gets caught on things and is too distracting. Frilly and lacy clothing is uncomfortable or gets ripped easily. Makeup is one of my worst nightmares, and, honestly, most of the girls wearing it look silly with it on.

I have nothing against them wearing what they want, generally. And I’m not trying to Go Against The Norm or look like a guy, I’m just more comfortable in my clothes, hair, and skin the way it all is.

Do you know who does have a problem with them dressing how they want? The school.

Dress codes are pretty easy to find in any student handbook. There are almost always restrictions of some sort or another.

No cleavage, no midriff, no shoulders (what is that one all about? Are shoulder fetishes more rampant in teenagers than we think?), no butt, no crotch, that sort of thing.

The dress code is, unsurprisingly, sexist, as I frequently see boys outside with their shirts off during wellness class without penalization; and to add insult to injury, not very well enforced.

What do you mean? you might ask. Isn’t that a good thing? I mean, if you’re so upset about not being able to wear stuff you wouldn’t wear anyway, and you can, what’s the problem?

I’ll tell you, hypothetical question-asking person, and also actual reader.

Lots of girls wear shirts with their bellies exposed, and tons of them have visible cleavage, and almost every one has her shoulders staring right. At. You.

(The Horror!)

They never get reprimanded.

Normally, the dress code isn’t my issue. But one day, for swim spirit, we were told “Wear your swimsuit to school, with shorts on top, and maybe tights. Try to wear your towel as a cape. It’s superhero spirit!”

So I did. No cleavage was exposed. No midriff. My shoulders and part of my back were visible, but I doubt anyone wants to fuck a spine. I don’t have tights. I didn’t wear any. I brought my towel, though it was large and ungainly, and the art room was overwhelmingly hot, so I took it off during third period art.

The school security officer came into the room, which she does occasionally, just to greet the teachers.

She touched my shoulder and said, in a very serious tone, “Honey, you’d better get some clothes on.”

The effort it took not to snap at her was immense.

Normally, I dress perfectly acceptably by the school’s standards–plenty of people don’t–and the single instance where I’m wearing something not even particularly inappropriate, I get berated.

A similar thing happened to my friend, who is on the soccer and basketball teams. She was also wearing team spirit.

Again, I noted that nobody else on the swim team was criticized for wearing “inappropriate” dress that day. The dress code is so inconsistently regulated, it almost feels unnecessary.

I generally dislike dress codes, so of course I’m biased. I think it’s unfair to label people as “sluts” (because seriously, no boy has even gotten suspended or even chastised for breaking the dress code) just because they’re wearing something that other people think is “sexual”. The certain parts of the body that are taboo are selected arbitrarily and a lot of other cultures don’t actually care. In central Europe, there are pictures of naked women and men everywhere, but here, because of our puritanical culture (we were settled by the puritans in the U.S., don’t forget), we freak out if teenagers have visible cleavage. Maybe it’s fear of pedophilic instinct or something.

But clothes were developed for protection against harmful environments, then they were used for expression, and now they are used to “cover up” that of which we are trained to be ashamed.

I’m not remotely surprised that so many people have eating and body-dismorphic disorders, I’m not startled in the least that so many girls are uncomfortable with the way they look–because we are indoctrinated to believe our bodies are dangerous, ugly, and “dirty”. We’re told that we can’t show the way we naturally look.

If you tell people with whom you work what your salary is, you can develop a more equal environment because then you know who’s being paid more possibly based on sex or race, and talk to your boss.

It’s the same for body types. We hold ourselves to insane standards because that’s mostly what we’re seeing. We don’t know the actual ideal, we don’t know what our friends and idols actually look like, so we hate ourselves.

I’m not saying that it’s only for girls. Boys are taught that they need to be muscular and testosterone-driven. They’re supposed to be allowed to be obnoxious, and are praised if they’re not, and they’re supposed to work out and be cool.

Yes, we should strive for healthy bodies, but we shouldn’t be penalized if we don’t have the time or energy to do it. We certainly shouldn’t be treated poorly because of our appearances. But if we don’t communicate how human beings in our part of the world actually look, then we’re going to keep screwing ourselves up.


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