By Rachel Benbrook, Regular Contributor
Recently a letter from school officials dictating a strict dress code for a school swim party sparked debate as it went viral. The school officials said that the 6th grade swimming party required for the female students to wear a non-white t-shirt over their swimsuits. One mom, Jennifer Smith, had plenty to say about these guidelines. Although Jennifer was the mother a male student invited to the party, she felt it was inappropriate for the school to set such high demands on female students only. The school responded by saying that “To address the issue of appropriate dress for the swim party, we believed asking the girls to wear t shirts over their swimsuits was the solution that addressed the issue most sensitively.”
I personally have always been unsure about where I stand on topics regarding uniforms and dress codes, particularly in the school environment. As someone who has spent a great deal of time working and volunteering with children, as well as currently being employed at a school, I understand the necessity of having some type of structure to student’s appearance. I also understand the fact that dress codes and our appearance both exist and matter in the real world. Restaurants, and certainly business professionals have expectations on how we dress, and many will reserve the right to refuse service, or not hire us, if we do not comply with certain societal norms. Therefore, should schools and other educational bodies begin promoting this concept early on?
I see the validity in promoting positive dress, however I have always felt that the majority of dress codes were directed at young women.
I think that Jennifer Smith had many valid points when she challenged the schools policy. The school chose to have a swim party, therefore wouldn’t it be understandable that students would be wearing swimsuits and swimwear? Yes, to be fair the letter did say no Speedos, which we can presume are predominantly for male students, however why did each of the girls have to be wearing a non-white t-shirt?
The overall nature of the letter was to discourage young women from disclosing their bodies. Seeing as though the students were only 12 years old, this seems a bit extreme to me. I can empathize with the schools concern over promoting an atmosphere of positivity in all aspects of dress, however if we do not want young women disclosing themselves in swim attire, perhaps the school should have chosen a different type of party to reward the students.
I think there is a distinct difference between encouraging people to take pride in how they dress, and to dress appropriately for the occasion and shaming young girls for their bodies.
I believe in this instance the school crossed that line by trying to force 12 year old girls to cover themselves. This sends the message that young women have to cover their bodies, but their male peers do not. I think that instances like this are more harmful than we realize, and it is time that we begin to consider the impact dress codes can have when they are unfairly targeted at young women and girls. We need more people like Jennifer Smith who are willing to take a stand when they see things like this and alert others to the harmful and unfair potential consequences of dress codes such as this one.
Let's chat! Where do you stand on the dress codes in school settings? How do you think they might effect young women? Share with us here!
Rachel is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and the University of Leeds where she studied Political Communications. She is a passionate advocate of strong friendships, caffeine, social justice, current events, travels and adventures, as well as all things peanut butter. She enjoys watching Parks and Recreation, as well as teaching English to new language learners.
image via huffingtonpost.com