by: Avishag (Shugie) Shvil
Have you ever been told that your shoulders, midriff, or thighs needed to be covered up for being distracting? As someone who has been at this school for many years, I’ve grown accustomed to the dress code rules, even if I don’t necessarily agree with them. I understand that the school wants us to maintain a certain standard of appearance, particularly given our religious affiliation. The school recently introduced a new dress code in the student handbook, and while the changes weren’t drastic, I feel that there are several matters that need to be addressed.
My main concern with the new dress code is the way it is worded and the implications it carries. Rather than specifying which clothing items are not allowed, the rules focus on specific body parts that should not be shown. These tend to be body parts that are traditionally sexualized for girls, giving the impression that there is something inherently wrong or shameful about them. The student handbook states, “Clothing should be neat and clean and should not reveal one’s: Undergarments, Midriff, Shoulders, Upper thigh and Low neckline.” This not only reinforces negative attitudes towards certain female body parts, but it also puts the burden of regulating others’ behavior on the shoulders of young girls. I’ve even heard teachers refer to the dress code rules in gendered terms, suggesting that they are intended primarily for girls.
One particularly troubling incident involved a male teacher telling a female teacher to dress code her student for being “distracting” and that she needed to change. It seems that girls with curvier body types are being singled out and asked to change their clothing more frequently than other girls. They are told that their bodies are inherently distracting and need to be covered up simply because of their natural shape. This not only undermines their confidence and self-esteem, but in the long term, it could also have a negative effect on these girls’ ability to express themselves through clothing and fashion.
I am not opposed to the concept of a dress code in general. However, I think it would be more effective and less harmful if it focused on specific clothing items rather than body parts. For example, instead of saying, “No shoulders, no midriff, and no lower neckline,” the dress code could say, “No tank tops or crop tops.” This would take the focus off of peoples’ bodies and put it back on the clothing itself. Overall, I believe that small changes in the wording or the way dress coding is handled, in addition to collaboration between the students and teachers, could help to create a more inclusive and supportive school environment for all students.