Chapter 24 | Cover your bodies, girls!

In schools all over the world, there are rules put in place to stop girls (and boys) from wearing what they want to wear. I’ll be using Canadian examples in this post, but others countries are not immune to this phenomenon.

Here are some of the rules Canadian students are expected to respect:

  • No “spaghetti straps”,
  • No visible bra straps (yet you must wear a bra because breasts need to be contained),
  • No visible nipple shape,
  • No bare shoulders,
  • No leggings/yoga pants (unless you’re a size 0),
  • No skirts above the knee,
  • No shorts that are too short,
  • No graphic or offensive prints,
  • No headgear of any kind, except (hopefully) for religious purposes,
  • And so on.

You may be thinking, “these rules are normal”. I’m here to say that they’re sexist and have become ridiculous. Dress codes were invented as guidelines meant to inform participants (in this case students) of what a proper attire is for a certain event (school). But, that’s a vague definition. What is proper? I believe the ultimate goal is to prevent nudity and the display of offensive images or expressions.

Unfortunately, dress codes haven’t evolved over time. They don’t reflect today’s society and what’s more, they make women their main target. Online, you’ll find too many instances where the dress codes were used to shame school girls and expel them from class. Here are more ridiculous examples.

In this article by the National Post, school officials say that “Standards are needed for safety reasons and to prevent clothes from becoming a distraction in the classroom […] Such rules also prepare students for the working world.” I would like to know what these “safety reasons” are. Someone’s clothing should never be the reason they are in danger—unless they are a superhero wearing a cape, that’s just asking for trouble.

The world is clearly changing, yet, we hold ourselves up to these “proper” clothing standards and we’re doomed without them. What’s the problem with wearing a hat in class? Apparently, it’s a sign of disrespect; “gentlemen don’t wear hats indoors”. This is an outdated rule and should be abolished. It doesn’t have any meaning or benefit today. Because of this rule, an 8-year-old girl was told to stop wearing a headscarf to school or to stop attending class altogether.

Effie Trinket Head Scarf Effie Trinket in The Hunger Games (rocking a head scarf)

As a student you’re already worried about so many things—clothing shouldn’t be an added stress and humiliation factor. I remember being reprimanded in high school for my clothes (my neckline was too low). I had to wear my winter jacket in class or be sent home (21 km away).

Girls are expected to hide and police their developing bodies when they’re already struggling to accept these new changes. And all that for what? To protect boys from their hormones. Are we living in the 1800’s? At some point, we’ll have to start hiding our ankles again.

Dress codes and the way they are enforced—by shaming the girls and sending them home—teach boys that girls are responsible for how boys act. That the education of men is more important than the education of women. To make it worse, if women don’t cover up and get sexually harassed or violated they’re told it’s their own fault.

Putting so much emphasis on “inappropriate” body parts generates power that can and will be used against these parts. For example, a boy in my class would yell “show us your boobs”, to one of our teachers. She was bewildered and furious every single time. He was sent to the principal’s office (the principal was a man), but you could see the shame on her face. A 15-year-old boy should not be able to have this shaming power over a teacher. Yet, he did.

Students need to learn that everyone is equal. To be taught that bodies come in all shapes and sizes and they might (or might not) find them attractive. Attraction is healthy. Discovering and understanding your hormones and sexual orientation is part of growing up. Learning to deal with that in school will teach our youth not to harass or sexual objectify others now or later.

There’s no problem in showing shoulders, cleavage, midriff, or thighs—bodies are natural. If you want to wear a crop top in class, you should. The only reason bodies are hypersexualized is exactly because we are forced to hide them. Give teenagers more responsibility; they can take care of themselves. Suppression isn’t the answer.