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I can remember exactly two instances from my past where my dress code was called into question. The first was when I was in high school, I wore a shirt from Save the Tatas. It simply said “My tatas could beat up your tatas”. This was prior to my breast reduction, and my breasts were (and still are) rather large. My best friend was wearing a shirt that said “I love my little tatas”. I was issued a verbal warning and then, told to cover my t-shirt up. I was called out publicly and embarrassed without information. I was told simply that my shirt was inappropriate. No one would give me a straight answer as to why the shirt supporting breast cancer research was inappropriate in comparison to my friend’s similar shirt. Eventually someone gave me a mumbled excuse about it being too violent. I listed numerous dress code infractions that could easily have been given attention to, but was ignored.
The second time was at a church musical practice. I simply wore a tank top- similar to many of the other girls in the cast, and I was forced to wear an oversized t-shirt. I was called out publicly by one of the moms, and was told to either wear the shirt or leave the cast, as my clothing was too “immodest”.
To this day, I can remember the feelings I had and the annoyance of being embarrassed by adults claiming that my body was too distracting or inappropriate. I remember the rage of trying to understand why my body was shamed while other girls were wearing the same clothing and completely accepted. So naturally, with all the conversations about dress codes for girls in schools I’ve got a few feelings on the topic.
I’m reminded of a post I’ve seen on Tumblr a few times that says
“When you interrupt a girl’s school day to force her to change clothes or send her home because her shorts are too short or her bra straps are visible, you are telling her that making sure boys have a “distraction free” learning environment is more important than her education”
I wear incredibly professional clothing, and at times, my bra straps show. I wear professional dresses that show my shoulders, my collarbone, my cleavage. Not once have I been told that those are a distraction, or that they’re unprofessional, regardless of the industry I’ve worked in. No one has ever crashed their car because my cleavage has been showing. As an adult, with copious amounts of breast tissue, no one has ever insinuated that my cleavage has made it harder for them to do their job.
Here’s the dress code from my high school. This is as of 2012-2013:
…outer garments, jackets, pullovers, etc., may not be worn throughout the normal school day unless administrative permission is extended for unusual circumstances. Gym shorts and excessively short, tight or immodest shorts or skirts are not permitted. All shorts and skirts must be fingertip length. Tube tops, cut-offs, tank tops, halter tops, “spaghetti straps,” etc., are not permitted. All shirts must be able to be tucked in! (Torso and shoulders must be covered) Clothing or jewelry displaying indecent writing, profanity, depictions or allusions to drugs, alcohol and sex, including slogans, are inappropriate and may not be worn. Headwear of any nature is prohibited in the building except with prior approval of the Principal or his designee. Immodest garments in terms of design or fit may not be worn in the normal course of the school day. Dress must not interfere with the educational process or the rights of others. Apparel of or relating to designation of gang membership, affiliation or promotion is prohibited. Trousers, pants and shorts are to be worn at the waist level.
So what exactly constitutes “immodest”? Beyond that, who gets to decide? A shirt that looks appropriate on someone who is a size 6 may look “immodest” on a size 16. Unfortunately, there are not many options out there for those who may want to look cute, fashionable, and also follow the rules given. These dress codes are super problematic when you take a look at who they affect, and also take a look at the type of fashion that exists. It is also problematic in how it is applied to different body types. At 5’9″, many of the skirts I wear for fashion and comfort purposes would be considered problematic, however for someone who is 5’6″, they would be excellent. Unfortunately, it’s incredibly hard for me to find skirts that are “appropriate” unless I delve into professional business wear. Much of my wardrobe as an adult would be banned from my high school because I’m tall, busty, and fat.
So what the fuck is wrong with this country that we are issuing this incredibly problematic, one sided dress code? We are teaching girls that they are less than. That their bodies are less than. We are encouraging the idea that boys simply “cannot help themselves” when it comes to looking at a woman’s body. In reality, boys may not be the ones with the problem. The people who are deciding that something is “immodest” or “inappropriate” are not the peers. They are the administrators. Administrators who have decided that a girl’s body looks too sexy for school. Someone who has decided that these girls are too tempting, too distracting, too _____. That is the message you are giving to these young girls. We are telling them that they are too sexy, too tempting, too distracting. With these dress codes, we are telling young women that their individuality, their creativity, and their love of themselves and their bodies should be stifled and hidden because they might incite a riot in their male peers. These destructive ideas are leading to the idea that boys and men are helpless in their behaviors, and that they simply cannot control themselves, and that women are to blame.
It is unfortunate. It is sexist. It is bullshit.
And I’m fucking over it.
-The Frisky Fairy