How to Ditch the Dress Code and Empower Body Positivity
January 30, 2021
My 2021 goal is to read more. I enjoy reading and need to make the effort to do things I enjoy. Looking for lighthearted entertainment, I picked up a middle grade novel recommended by my cousin. Dress Coded by Carrie Firestone did not disappoint on the entertainment side of the coin, what I did not expect is the influx of deep thoughts on our current social norms around dress code. As a mother of three, I see problems with the current narrative. Let’s find the places we can improve, so that we empower instead of shame our tweens and teens.
Dress Code vs Uniform
What is a dress code and how does it differ from a uniform policy? I see the two as very different animals. Dress Codes are subjective. They contain wording and policy that define appropriate dress based on subjective standards, such as length of shorts, height of heals, and style of shirt. Who defines what is too short or too high? It is open to interpretation by the beholder. This interpretation is often subjective based on the individual. Put three kids wearing the exact same outfit on display, watch one be cited with violations and the other two passed over by the same adult. Subjective!
Uniforms are far more objective. Uniforms define the exact pieces of clothing and color palette allowable. Allowable items are defined specifically. In many cases, a preferred vendor is passed along to increase clarity. For example, please wear long or short sleeve polo style shirts in red, blue, green, or white. With uniforms, options are limited and the goal is uniformity among the population.
Dress Codes are One-Sided
The theme of Dress Coded is the one-sided nature of the dress code and how it is not enforced uniformly. Look at your average middle school or high school dress code, who is it regulating? The answer is girls! We are trying to regulate everything girls wear, while barely mentioning the boys. Hmmm… why is this?
Blame and Responsibility
The cultural norm is to regulate every aspect of the appearance of women because the female form is distracting to men. We tell our girls they hold the responsibility for both their own actions and the actions of all the boys around them. In this narrative men and boys are purely animalistic and can not control their thoughts, actions, and urges. The idea is ridiculous and puts an enormous amount of pressure on girls, while giving boys a free pass for bad behavior.
Negative Body Image and Shame
Tweens and Teens are at an awkward time of life. Everything around them is in a constant state of change. They are trying to figure out what they like, who they are, and what they want to put out into the world. The Mainstream Media bombards them with images and ideals that are IMPOSSIBLE for the vast majority of the population to meet. Add the pressure to have friends, get good grades, belong to a million activities, and just overall perform, it is overwhelming. What happens when we start “calling them out” for wearing clothes they feel comfortable and confident in, because they violate our subjective dress code? They start feeling shame! These kids start questioning their body shape and size. Instead of letting their light shine, they choose to shrink and try not to be noticed.
As a Mother of a Boy
I sit here a mother of a 5-year-old boy. He will some day be a tween, teen, and adult male. I will not allow him a free pass regarding his behavior towards women. He will understand that women deserve his respect and kindness. My son will understand what consent means. I will teach him that these standards are true 100% of the time, they do not waiver based on what clothing a person wears. Whether a woman is covered from head to toe or wearing the skimpiest bikini ever made, she is defined by her actions, her mind, and her feelings and should be respected. Let us teach our boys that they are clear thinking, responsible human beings, not predatory animals ruled by sexual instincts.
As a Mother of Two Girls
I also sit here a mother of a 14-year-old and an 8-year-old girl. Reading Dress Coded changed my perspective on regulating their clothing. My wording is going to change. I will focus on clothes fitting well and being comfortable. They need to walk downstairs in the morning feeling confident and knowing that they are perfect just as they are. We will talk about setting appropriate clothing. No, it is not appropriate to wear a tube top and shorts to church on Sunday. Save it for the beach my friends. I will remind them daily that they deserve respect and kindness 100% of the time from the people around them. This respect is not conditional based on their appearance.
My girls will also understand the definition of consent. We are in control of our words and our actions and we do not have a right to harm another person, nor do they have a right to harm us. Harm is not always physical, words are also very powerful and we need to think before we comment on people’s appearance. There are so many layers to this narrative that need to be addressed. It goes so much deeper than the clothes we choose to wear.
Empowerment and Positivity First
I want to start a narrative where we empower our children to be confident and in control of their bodies. I do not want to hear “You can’t wear leggings because it is distracting.” My 14 year old was given this as a reason for not being allowed to wear leggings at school. When told the story, I stopped and changed the conversation. I told her leggings were not allowed under the current uniform policy. She must respect and follow the uniform policy that we agreed to by enrolling at her school. FULL STOP! You are not in control of whether or not your appearance distracts someone. That is for them to figure out and take control of their own feelings.
The New Challenge
Have you read the Dress Code at your child’s school? Do you know how it is enforced? Dress Coded by Carrie Firestone convinced me that parents need to seek out this information. We need to find out the standard and challenge it if it does not adhere to our own standards of positivity and empowerment. We need to reinforce repeatedly – You are more than the clothes you wear. Your physical appearance is one part of your beautiful whole. Respect yourself. Respect each other. You can change the world!