As you walk in the school doors with a big smile spread across your face, the principal happens to be right inside the door. You’re feeling confident about your appearance today, especially your outfit, carrying yourself with a little more pride than usual. You say hello to the principal, but you notice he looks you up and down as you stride forward. They say to you, “Could you cover-up, that shirt is a little too distracting.” Your shirt is barely off the shoulder. You feel deflated, embarrassed, upset, and no longer confident as you put on a jacket and start the rest of your school day.
Has this ever happened to you? For many girls including myself in Salem-Keizer School District, this has been the norm since elementary school. Dress codes all over the country have been geared towards girls for decades. Luckily, with the updated Salem-Keizer dress code, we no longer have to expect this as we walk the halls.
Salem-Keizer Public Schools revised the dress code before the 2019-2020 school year outlining a simple code that allows self-expression and ensures equality for everyone. The revision was implemented after a group of girls expressed their concerns to the school board, advocating for so many girls feeling targeted by the previous rules.
The dress code stated that shorts had to be a certain length, most tank tops were discouraged, and it was heavily enforced upon girls and rarely upon boys. Many modern clothing businesses sell trending garments that are shorter and have less coverage. With that, it was extremely difficult to find items that fit within the dress code regulations. In warmer weather conditions, if girls want to be comfortable, they will wear the only shorts they can find in stores (shorter ones) and be dress-coded for them.
Many dress codes result in a decrease in self-esteem among girls. One fundamental lesson that adults try to instill in us from a young age is to be confident in ourselves and our bodies. Dress coding majorly counteracts that lesson and teaches the opposite to young girls. Appearance has so much to do with inward confidence. If a girl chooses to wear a certain outfit to school, it’s because she’s confident in herself and what she’s showing. To think to yourself, wow I’m really proud of myself today and how I’m portraying myself to my peers, and then to be told to cover up, or that you are distracting others, is humiliating and extremely damaging to self-esteem.
Dress codes have been vividly sexist, and not just the written part, the culture of it in general. Speaking from personal experience, I have seen boys at school wearing tank tops where you can explicitly see their chest through the sides, and a girl will be wearing a tank top that is covering everything except her shoulders, and guess what, she will be dress coded and he won’t. That is messed up. Society has taught us that “boys will be boys” so to compensate for boy’s “sexual” feelings, that may or may not be there, the boys don’t have to change, the girls do. Not only is this unfair to girls and causes us to cover up when we aren’t showing anything inappropriate, but it is also unfair to boys too. The notion that “boys will be boys” is severely outdated. We should be teaching everyone to respect all people for who they are, not what they look like. Girls shouldn’t be reprimanded for behavior by the other party. Additionally, males need to be held to a higher standard, given the opportunity to prove themselves as respectful, and not automatically accused of thinking of only physical attraction. Everyone should be required to follow the same codes of conduct and rules no matter their gender.
Some may think that a more modest dress code will prevent sexual harassment, but I believe it does the opposite. Dress codes treating female bodies as items that should not be shown promotes the idea that girl’s bodies are a taboo subject. In turn, this leads people to respond to exposed skin with shaming and mocking. With modernized dress codes, bodies are conveyed as a part of life that should be celebrated and normalized, decreasing the amount of mystique around it.
No matter your height, weight, waist, or chest size, all bodies should be viewed equally, but many dress codes cause certain body types to be penalized more than others. For example, a girl with a bigger chest size who is wearing a tank top has a higher chance of being dress coded than someone else wearing the same tank top with a flatter chest. Another example is a taller person whose legs are longer, making shorts appear shorter would be dress coded, whereas someone wearing the same shorts with shorter legs would not. Dress coding females because of our bodies, which we can’t control, builds a foundation of negative emotions toward our image, and these feelings are often long-lasting. Updated dress codes should include guidelines that are suitable for all body shapes and sizes, to promote confidence.
Everyone deserves a dress code that promotes equality, self-expression, confidence, and a positive body image. Salem-Keizer is a leader in updating its dress code to fit our changing times as well as make a safe and inclusive learning environment for all.