Cover Up

August 30, 2014
It starts with a dress code : be it at school, at work or sometimes even at home.

When you're young, it mostly has to do with color palettes : pink for girls, blue for boys. When you enter Middle School, then further on in High School, it's more complicated than that.

Most have grown past most “rules” on what is considered girlish or boyish. Lots of girls have swapped skirts and patterned dresses for casual jeans. Lots of guys don't mind wearing pastel colors, previously related to catching “cooties”. Because when you are a teenager, hopefully – most of the time – you are slightly more mature.

Yet things also get more complex. No matter what some may say, it becomes harder for young women on several accounts. If you take the time to read fashion magazines, tabloids (because who doesn't enjoy a bit of gossip, now and again ?), or simply turn on the TV sometimes, you will notice that women are judged much harsher about their physiques and outfits than our friends of the other gender. This is due to many reasons, most much to lengthy to analyze in this short “rant”.

However, you need not look so far to remark these unspeakable differences between us and our counterparts. Check your school's dress code to start with. If boys do get chided about low hung pants and showing briefs sometimes, the repercussions are minor and mostly consist of half-hearted reprimands like, “Nick, pull up your jeans, we don't need to see your designer boxers” or “Jason, please don't forget to wear a belt tomorrow”.

On the other hand, girls have a long list of items deemed unacceptable. For top-half garments : bra straps must not be displayed, your bra cannot show through shirts, thin strapped tank tops are to be left in your closet until the weekend. For anything under the naval, it becomes a full on Clothe Constitution : no short skirts – or miniskirts – whatever you wish to call them ; no shorts that are cut off before the knee (yes, even in summer) that show two very human and very none-sexual related parts, otherwise known as legs (wake up world, we all have them, all seven billion of us). Even some jeans that have holes are a big “no no”. It is frankly ridiculous, sexist and downright depressing – it's also the cause for girls taking slightly longer to pick out outfits, at least that's what I like to tell myself.

I might be biased, seeing as I identify as part of the female gender, but nevertheless. It is 2014, this is the glorified 21st century, and irrelevant, trivial, mundane things such as tank tops that reveal a bit too much shoulder, and summer clothes such as shorts (pleasant reminder that these are meant to help keep cool – not arouse) are banned for reasons like “showing too much skin” and “it is distracting to boys”.

I have never seen a boy get sent to the office, much less sent home because of what he is wearing, unlike many of my friends who have had to miss class in order to change, all because they had the “audacity” to attend class “under-dressed”. Never, not once in my entire academic career ! Yet, for girls, this sadly happens often, usually in the stifling hot months. Girls are refused entry at the school gates. This is refusing to educate a girl, this is forbidding them to be taught, all because of a couple inches of skin. This is telling young, still influenceable women, who will be future leaders, lawyers, journalists, doctors, mothers, that how they look is more important than what they have the possibility of learning and achieving. This is outrageous.

Girls are shamed because of unclothed legs and arms, shamed for being proud of their bodies, when it should be the ones who write these outdated rules, as well as those who enforce them (especially teachers) who should feel ashamed. Who are they to chastise us, guilt us, tell us what we can and can not wear, remind us to cover up ? The only people with that power are our parents.

Even though I could keep going on about this, there was something else I wanted to include in this piece, something that inspired this. Not long ago, I read a wonderful book entitled “The Kabul Beauty School” which was written by the extremely inspiring Deborah Rodriguez, and takes place in Afghanistan. In an early passage, an Afghani woman is explaining that back in the 1970's, in the streets of Kabul, ladies could be seen wearing miniskirts – even religious, respectable, unwed Afghan women – not just westerners. This was, of course, before more conservative and strict regimes put their foot down. Yet, there and then, my world seemed to have imploded. I had to read the paragraph again, to double check that I hadn't simply misunderstood. But there it was, black on white, printed out before my eyes.

Everything I thought I had known about Afghanistan suddenly seemed doubtable (and as I continued reading, each page brought me more truth about the wonderful Eastern Civilization that I was rediscovering under a new light). For if an Islamic country such as that one had once seen days where few wore the burqa, dressing like Western women instead, what was to say that Western Civilization couldn't be turned as well, and that we could not become commanded to stop dressing as we pleased ? Then I realized we already weren't as free to clothes ourselves as we wanted, since I have had first hand proof at school. What is standing in the way of taking that one small, finale, step ? You might think that it's a bit radical, that developed countries would never dare “enslave” women by hiding their faces, then their bodies. But what about Afghanistan in the 70's ?

I have been a victim myself of my school's absurd dress code. I have been “told off” by adults for what I was wearing (keep in mind that I am fairly prudish and hate dressing in anything I don't feel comfortable in). What if someday it's not just skirts and bra straps, but arms and necks and ankles ? What if someday we can't wear jeans anymore ? Again, not that long ago, my mother's generation actually, when she was a little girl it was practically unheard of that she should be sporting anything else but a dress. That was only fifty years prior. Times have changed, you may say. Yet once again, look at Afghanistan ; they went from covering up, to being free to dress as they pleased, to covering up and worse during the Taliban reign.

What this all comes down to is the fact that women and girls are still, in an era praised for it's “forward thinkers” and “freedom”, being told what to wear, mostly by men (sorry, but it's true) and for men. We have been brainwashed into accepting this as well, in part due to years of being undermined by the patriarchy and being taught such things – therefore making us believe that our bodies aren't ours, that that kid two rows behind you isn't paying attention in class because, let's face it, your legs are simply too distracting and appealing to look away from ! (cough.)

We need to stop telling girls to cover up and dress “decently”. We need to start teaching men to respect us bodies, thus respect us, no matter how we dress. We also need to teach young women that if you want to wear that very cute polka dotted dress, to go for it ! Even if it's cut low in the front and shows off your shoulders, bra straps and all, because wearing it doesn't mean you are “provocative”, “looking for it”, or that you have less self worth, or little to no self respect. It isn't for us to hide away, it isn't for us to cover up.

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