(trigger warnings: sexism, rape culture, cissexism, racism, cultural discrimination, Isalmaphobia, eating disorders, body image)
You cannot go a day on the internet without reading something about school uniform, dress code violations or the length of a preteen girls skirt. We’re very interested in the phenomenon of what young people are and are not allowed to wear to school right now, and rightly so, it has a great effect on young people’s education, sense of self and social interaction. This is a list of why we cannot, and should not, stop talking about school uniform, until there isn’t a problematic dress code left in the world.
they eliminate individuality
links one and two
If you’ve spent time around young kids you will know that the majority have a tendency to ask questions until you are unable to answer any more. You will also probably have noticed spidermen, princesses and little people in onesies wandering about with their guardians at least once, in other words in an outfit they are so in love with that no one can convince them to take it off. There is an innate curiosity and freedom in kids, they will wear and say and ask whatever they want to wear and say and ask.
Once a child starts attending school, teachers begin to shut down questions that go off topic (sadly probably because if they answered a class of thirty curious children all the questions they asked, there would be no time left for the curriculum) (don’t get me started, I wish so badly that this is what school could be, ask and answer as much as you can) (but that’s not what I’m talking about today) and a child stops asking so many questions. The child also, generally from the age of five or six, has to start wearing uniform or adhering to a dress code.
The magical careless freedom said child has felt with their words and the clothes they wear start becoming something controlled by other people and these other people begin to teach us that the clothes we wear and things we say are inextricably linked. That there are things that aren’t allowed and things that don’t go together and things that we can’t say or wear if we want to be taken seriously. We begin to realise that despite our clothing having no real scientific effect on our intelligence, characteristics or personality, socially, there is a great deal of weight put in what you choose to wear, and its effect on your personality. When the whole world has been raised to believe that dress codes are essential to our being understood by others, it becomes a never ending cycle, the belief that there must have been a reason for us to be told to dress in a certain way leads us to think up reasons why this must be, and creates a need for dress codes in itself. Remove dress codes, remove the need for them.
they make puberty harder
(Bear with me on this one, it follows on from the previous problem.)
You may have just escaped, it may be years behind you, or you may still be within the throws of puberty and all the change it brings. In case you don’t remember, it’s horrific. Both your body and your mind are doing real weird shit and you don’t really have any idea where its going, whether you look anything like anyone else at other stages of puberty and how to make it not look so awkward. At times, you can become intensely uncomfortable with the way your body looks, and the fact that everyone else is going through this rollercoaster of emotions and physical change does not aid your discomfort. A few years ago, you used to all look generally the same, you could wear the same clothes as anyone else and on the whole, look similar enough to not make you intensely aware of where you’re curvy or hairy or bumpy or flat or tall or spotty and someone else isn’t.
This is not the case with puberty. Differences seem to stick out like a sore thumb. It is no longer possible to wear the same thing as everyone else and not become aware of where you look different and worry that other people are noticing too. The literal discomfort that comes with growing pains, or your first period, or the fact that your shoes no longer fit your rapidly growing feet, or the emotional discomfort that comes with the raging storm of hormones in your body, or the discomfort that comes from noticing the differences is not easy to cope with. Puberty is overwhelming. The freedom to wear whatever makes you feel comfortable whenever you need, (particularly if you need to actually be focusing on school work, and not how small your jumper has seemed to become around your chest in a way that makes you self conscious) would be a blessing to many a student. Seriously, puberty is hard enough.
they create body image issues
This is a more specific problem than that of the puberty struggles, and one that uniform in particular creates. The freedom to explore clothing that makes you feel good with the way you body looks, especially when you are having to get used to a completely new way in which you body works and looks, will greatly benefit development and potentially avoid the many body issues as teenagers are prone to form.
It is already challenging enough to navigate body confidence within a society that (most likely) tells you you are not justified to love the way your body looks. Giving teenagers the freedom to explore all types of clothing, to make mistakes, discover what feels and looks good in their own eyes, without the rules or judgement of others that uniforms and dress codes imply on teenage clothing choices, will be extremely beneficial. You are at most danger of developing an eating disorder when you’re in your teens, when you’re most likely in school. The need to feel comfortable and confident with your body while at school is evident. The way in which you dress your body greatly affects the way you feel about it and having others decide what you can and cannot wear could create long term health issues if you don’t feel good in the stuff they allow.
Incase you aren’t aware of the phrase cissexist, it refers to the discrimination of those who don’t identify with the gender they are assigned at birth. This may be through comments, actions or social practices, and is generally a subtle but very harmful discrimination, which many people (including myself at times) are in the habit of engaging with.
Cissexism arises in dress codes that have separate and distinct ideas of what boys and girls should be wearing to school. On top of the further stress of puberty those who experience gender dysphoria will be having, the idea that someone else will not only be deciding what you wear, but potentially forcing you to wear clothing which would lead to your being consistently misgendered can cause serious long term harm. No one should have to experience the kind of disillusionment and distress that misgendering brings, and particularly in a place where you are unable to leave situations that upset you. Having your identity consistently questioned, redefined or outright undermined is never ok. And if you identify outside of the generally understood binary genders, your navigation of a dress code can become all the more complicated. The stress caused by cissexism in dress codes is seriously, not worth it. Seriously.
(This is an element of dress codes that I am aware of but have no direct experience of, so I do not want to say too much and give misinformation, so if you have opinions or insight on this that you would like to share, comment below!)
Dress codes have sent young people home for wearing their hair naturally too many times for me to count. These young people are being sent home for braids in their hair, for professionally or carefully done hairstyles that are natural to their hair type, its an element of dress codes that already sounds ridiculous without even considering the fact that these ‘violations are specific to young black kids. By just having hair that is deemed different to the norm, or that does not conform to white standards of professionalism, young black people are being taught that their natural appearance is not appropriate for places of education and that they must wear their hair in ways that are usually uncomfortable, or just simply not what they would like their hair to look like, while white students are able to have their hair in almost any style they choose (don’t even get me started on the adults that are getting fired for wearing their hair in a healthy and natural way because it was deemed “unprofessional”). This racist component of dress codes is one that contributes to warped and extremely harmful concepts of beauty found across the world. In society, black people are repetitively conditioned to believe in white standards of beauty. This lie is detrimental and taxing enough to overcome, without it being something found in their places of education as well.
There is also an element of Islamaphobia and cultural discrimination in dress codes. At the school I attended although they were allowed, longer, ankle-length skirts were an exception to the rule of those just above the knee. The fact that students who chose to engage in modesty, or wear other elements of clothing for religious purposes become exceptions to the rule can perpetuate ideas that this is abnormal, or draw attention to clothing choices that are made to do the complete opposite. The idea that we are all comfortable with the same coverage or cut of uniforms bought in generic school stores is one that is ignorant of cultural practice and religious belief. White, western-centric dress codes are not appropriate or applicable in increasingly multi-cultural societies, particularly if other clothing is then an exception to the uniform rules, rather than just another totally different outfit that an individual chooses to wear.
(Again, an element of dress codes that I evidently have no direct experience of myself, and I am aware I have barely touched the surface of racist elements of school uniform and dress codes, so please comment below.)
This is probably the most common problem mentioned in pieces about dress codes, and it is one that is so prominent and talked about that I don’t really have to go into much detail, you probably already know the main complaints.
But generally, there are countless dress codes are in place that strictly police women’s bodies to a point of ridiculousness. I myself have read of dress code violations which have sent girls home or out of lessons for skirts more than two inches above their knees, revealing shoulders, wearing shorts, having shirts too sheer even wearing clothing that reveals collarbones. The raging sexualisation is problem enough, but alongside its repeated justification that these violations distract male teachers or students its made even worse.
The idea that certain parts of a girls’ body has the power to distract male pupils and teachers perpetuates that (a) it is appropriate for male teachers to be distracted by young school girls (b) that it is the girls’ primary responsibility in school to ensure that they don’t distract boys from their primary responsibility to study and succeed in school (c) that girls aren’t sexual beings and cannot be distracted by boys (d) that girls can’t be distracted by girls (e) that being sexual (once you are of age of consent) is a bad thing (e) that being sexualised is something that happens to girls, and not their own choice and (f) that girls cannot be as sexual and as intelligent as thy choose to be and that the innate sexual nature of girls bodies has to be concealed for them to be taken seriously as academics.
they’re a distraction
A common argument for the use of uniforms and dress codes is that they supposedly create an environment of few distractions to better the efficiency of teachers and success of pupils in schools. I think the stress involved and ideas that uniforms and dress codes perpetuate create both immediate stress, distraction and wasted time for pupils and teachers, (as seen repetitively in the fact that students get removed from parts of their education to enforce these rules) and long lasting and detrimental beliefs about ourselves, our appearances and place and value in society. Although there are arguments for the ease that every person wearing the same thing, or sticking to the same rules allows, I think the way in which we go about creating and enforcing said rules at the moment is fundamentally flawed.
If schools would like to create an environment of less distraction for pupils and teachers, there needs to be an eradication of all ideas and preconceptions we have about appropriate rules for clothing in schools, and discussions to begin from fundamental ideas of what regulations would create equal, understanding and positive environments for teenagers to grow and learn within. It is not a blanket list of cissexist, sexist, racist and generally ignorant rules that will lead to these surroundings, I can be sure of that.