At just twelve years old, I rushed through the crowded hallways of my middle school. I squeezed passed my classmates while holding my books in my arms, trying desperately to hide my shirt from any faculty, avoiding eye contact to the best of my ability. I was wearing my new lime green v-neck that I loved so much, but that exposed some of my collarbone and the top of my chest. I got to the doorway of my first period class and my teacher was there greeting me with a smile, that is until she looked down. In just seventh grade I was told my t-shirt was too revealing and that I would have to change my top. I ran to the bathroom, humiliated, and threw on my gym clothes. I went back to class and sat down at my seat next my friend, a boy, wearing a v-neck t-shirt.
I had never thought of myself as scandalous. I wasn’t even a teenager yet; I hadn’t even gone through puberty. From that day forward, I was so worried about what other people thought of me. I figured if the school administration, full of educated adults, thought my clothing was too revealing, then they must be right. It was my fault. I was a distraction.
After I moved school districts, my new school surprised me with their relaxed dress code policy. The change from not being able to wear leggings or running shorts to having virtually no rules was liberating. I felt free to be myself and less like a prisoner of the school system. A change as simple as this completely changed my outlook and attitude towards education. I almost forgot about my horrific middle school experience completely, until recently. Recently there has been a surge of cases similar to mine buzzing through social media. Young girls getting in trouble for exposing as much as their collarbone or shoulder. Female students have a long list of rules to follow and clothing items they can’t wear, and male students have next to no restrictions. Yes appropriate dress needs to be monitored in a school setting, but more often than not these “guidelines” become invasive and ridiculous.
The justifying claims for these restrictions usually boil down to the shown skin being a distraction to the male students. If the school system believes teenage boys cannot focus on their work because the girl sitting next to them has on a tank top, then how will they be able to function in the real world? The creation of these absurd dress codes hinders both female and male students. It teaches girls that it is their fault if a man cannot control himself. It teaches boys that it is okay to degrade women. From an early age it creates a stigma that everything a woman does is to please someone else, whether it be administration or a man.
In order to fix this problem, the school dress code system needs to be revamped nationwide, starting with elementary and middle schools. If we never teach young kids that showing a small amount of skin is bad, then boys will be less likely to be “distracted” in the first place because they aren’t looking for it. If we don’t teach girls that they have to dress for someone else, then they will be more confident and stronger people. The only way the reconstruction of dress code will be effective is if we start changing the way our society thinks. New, more relaxed restrictions could be put in place, but if no one alters their views on women and appearance, and if no one genuinely believes in the change, then no progress will occur.
People often don’t believe that dress code has any lasting affect on the mentality of the youth. They’re just kids right? Wrong. Imagine a society where women are seen as objects. Imagine a place where a man’s actions are blamed on a woman’s appearance. Imagine a world where your daughter, sister, and friends are s*** shamed. The sad thing is you don’t have to. We are living in that society, that place, that world, and we are teaching children that this is okay; this is just “how it is”, but it doesn’t have to be.
If I could tell my twelve-year-old self anything, it would be that you are not the problem. The main thing I remember feeling is that I didn’t know what I did wrong. Countless numbers of girls across America and across the world feel the same exact way, and if society can’t see that this is a problem, then society is the problem.