“Not being able to wear leggings because it’s ‘too distracting for boys’ is giving us the impression we should be guilty for what guys do,” said Sophie Hasty, a seventh-grader, who disagrees with her school’s dress code policy. “We just want to be comfortable!”
Some argue that when girls show too much skin, it is distracting to boys’ learning. Others also say that there is a fine line between what is appropriate and inappropriate for school. However, schools can take the dress code too far, prohibiting students from being themselves.
Telling a girl that her outfit is too revealing in school and that it is distracting the boys sends a message to girls that it is their fault if they are harassed by a boy about what they are wearing. Men are never told that their legs, arms or stomachs are a problem for other people. They are rarely seen as objects of sexual exploit.
Everyone has differently shaped bodies, and telling a girl that she does not look good in an outfit that she might feel great in will lower her self-confidence when she may already feel insecure about her body.
“We wanted students to know that your body is your body, and we want you to feel proud and comfortable in your own skin,” said Superintendent Eric Witherspoon of Evanston Township (Illinois) High School, who helped reform the dress code there. Witherspoon has changed the dress code to focus on a positive environment that avoids stereotyping.
Shopping for clothing also can be problematic. There are few stores with shorts, skirts and dresses down to the knees — where many dress codes expect them to be.
“Take a tall, skinny 12-year-old girl. Her shorts may not pass this finger-length test and would be considered inappropriate for school,” Nikki Belsham of Duval County, Florida, explained. “To reward you for treating my daughter with such concern, I am cordially inviting you to take my daughter shopping. Now, don’t forget that you will have to find something in the stores that also meets with your dress code requirements.”
Even parents understand what their children have to go through.
Teens in high school should have the freedom to wear what they feel comfortable in, not feel like they should be ashamed by their bodies, and not feel like they are constantly being judged. A dress code strictly objectifies female students. The good news is that more schools are heeding to young voices who are strongly arguing that girls should be able to go to school without the fear of unnecessary discipline.
Avery Sheaffer is in 11th grade at Conestoga Valley High School.