Body Shaming Girls for What They Wear to School Is Nothing New
It's disturbing that so many schools have been reported to police girls' outfits for being too tight, revealing, or otherwise inappropriate in the past couple of years. Normal dress codes are one thing, but calling out a six-year-old for a too-short skirt or Photoshopping sleeves onto high school yearbook photos? My head hurts. This is teaching girls from a young (in some cases, very young) age that their outfits are responsible for lewd comments — or worse — that guys choose to make. The worst thing is the double standards that can leave someone with awful body image for life: A student at Stuyvesant High School in New York was targeted for her shape, telling their student newspaper, "I’ve been told that even though my skirts were technically acceptable, they were still too short for me to wear, and once it was suggested that I should follow a separate dress code, wherein my skirts should end at least four inches past my fingertips, and preferably at my knees." That is unacceptable.
Well, lest you think this is some kind of new trend, here's a real story that really, truly happened to me when I was in middle school.
The setting: the third-floor gymnasium of a large public middle school in Washington, D.C. The year: 1998. The gym teacher gathers 20 or so girls — the boys and girls take separate gym classes — for a mandatory talk about the new school dress code. The school has recently implemented dress code rules, like requiring all boys to tuck in their shirts and implementing the "fingertip test" with girls' skirts. After explaining a few of these rules, the teacher moves on to the topic of booty shorts.
Teacher: N and L, come up here for a demonstration, please.
N and L walk up to the front of the room. N is skinny and about 4'7''. L is voluptuous.
Teacher: So, I know you all like to wear these "booty shorts." Now there are some people for whom that's okay, and some people who shouldn't wear them. We don't want any unwelcome attention from the boys. Class giggles. For example, N can wear booty shorts, no problem. But — L, can you turn around (she turns) — you can see why L really shouldn't. So just keep that in mind. You ladies can go back to your seat now. N looks mortified, and L looks kind of flattered and also like she just won the lottery. Class giggles and whispers.
I remember being slightly disturbed by that scene — mostly worried about whether the girls the teacher had made an example of were upset. But I accepted it, because when you're younger, you take cues from adults on what's normal and what isn't. That's the scary thing about all this: We're all a lot more impressionable when we're in high school (not to mention six years old). That's why I'm glad to see that some of the kids in these situations have fought back. After Haven Middle School in Evanston, IL, discouraged leggings for being too revealing, 13-year-old Sophie Hasty wrote to the Evanston Review, "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. We just want to be comfortable!" We need more students to speak up like Sophie did.
Did you have any similar experiences when you were in school? Tell us on Facebook or Twitter!