Don’t Wear Saturday On A Wednesday

 

I get asked frequently how I feel about dress codes or what my opinion is on the most recent story in the news of a parent and their daughter defying an imposing school dress code. My opinion is that school dress codes are necessary in an age when young men’s fashion is overly casual and so much of the young women’s apparel on the market is sexualized and girls are encouraged from childhood to sexually objectify themselves in order to gain social worth. The problem is not with girls, but everything and every one around them.

I will forever support girls demonstrating agency and using their voices. I think school dress codes, the way many are written, include multiple forms of body shaming and gendered double standards. I abhor the idea of reprimanding female students by sending them home or forcing them to wear bulky, baggy clothing as a slut-shaming dunce cap. The word “modesty” gives me hives.

At the same time, when you are a student school is your job. Dress like it. Show up ready to do your job. Respecting your role is a form of respecting yourself and what you are at school to do.

Days of the Week

It is this simple: Don’t wear Saturday on a Wednesday.

^I learned that phrase during a discussion with my colleague Julia V. Taylor (author, “Body Image Workbook For Teens“) who told me a principal she used to work with would say it to her teaching staff when they were dressed too casually or inappropriately for their profession.

 

This concept teaches our kids, girls specifically, three very important things:

1. There is a time and place for different manners of dress without shaming what those different styles may be or wanting to explore those different styles.
2. It still allows for agency and does not lend to body shaming and Rape Culture. The focus shifts from a young girl’s body to what is the appropriate attire for the time/place/function.
3. It teaches young people who have been immersed in a sexualized culture since birth there is no requirement to be sexy at all times. It teaches self-awareness.

 

But what do high school dress codes look like in practice and how do they impact students?

High school prom knock-out Alexus Miller-Wigfall. (Image via Hello Giggles)

High school prom knock-out Alexus Miller-Wigfall. (Image via Hello Giggles)

High school student Alexus Miller-Wigfall was going to receive an in-school suspension for this dress deemed inappropriate. Say whaaaa??? The dress is long-sleeved and floor length. Alexus and her date look stunning and elegant. Alexus’ mother believes the decision came because of Alexus’ curves. Even when completely covered, girls are still punished for going out in public with their bodies. In 2015. In America. In France, girls can’t win no matter what they are wearing.

Today’s high school girls ABSOLUTELY should be challenging body shaming and sexist dress codes, which is most effectively done when not sexually objectifying themselves. Leggings? Bare shoulders? Fine. Side-boob, under butt and bare midriff? Come, let’s have a little chat about how we dress for the job of learning……

In theory, this sign is great. In application, it just doesn’t work for me.

Student response to what was felt to be a sexist school dress code.

Student response to what was felt to be a sexist school dress code.

 

Today’s high school girls should be able to decide for themselves what to wear to class. Leggings and a tunic? Great, get to class on time. Society will not fall because we can see the outline of your hamstring. At the same time, today’s high school girls cannot undo thousands of years of human sexuality and biological responses to visual sexual stimuli. There is a balance between body shaming our female students and using common sense about being human beings with innate sexuality. There is a time and place for sexy. Being fifteen years old and sitting in Algebra is not it. Pubescent heterosexual boys are going to take in interest in female bodies, therefore girls in tiny shorts, bra straps, enormous amounts of cleavage in barely-there tank tops are distracting. The onus is on the boys to refocus and act respectfully because teenage girls are deserving of respect no matter what they do, or don’t, have on. And girls should respect their institution of learning and their education by dressing like Wednesday. Not Saturday.

The topic of school dress codes is not a zero sum game. Yes, fight against the idea that female bodies and sexuality are sinful, distracting, and something to be monitored/controlled/punished by a higher (most likely male) power. Yes, fight against dress codes that punish sexually mature female bodies and plus-sized, curvy bodies. Yes, teach boys even when a girl is dressed in a way that catches their eye they are still fully expected to react respectfully towards that person and they are fully responsible for their words and behavior towards that person.

At the same time – write school dress codes in a way that is gender inclusive and lists for students what is appropriate and professional attire for school Monday through Friday. Let’s help students identify and build up their personal brands as opposed to listing body parts and various forms of tight or revealing clothing that will apparently undo the education system and enlightening of the general public.

The education system has bigger problems and frankly, so do our students. Let’s keep the school’s focus where it should be – on the minds and intellect of the students. Hey school administrators, our brains are up here.

 

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (PP&BB). 

 

 

Fancy Dresses and Hurtful Comments: A Lesson From Award-Winning Comedian Sarah Millican

A recent unfortunate event that comedian Sarah Millican experienced provides us with an important conversation starter for our kids. I’m uncomfortable raising my children in a culture where the public verbal crucifixion of successful women who appear in public looking anything less than a super model is widely accepted as the staus quo. While Sarah is certainly not the first female celeb to encounter this kind of public body scrutiny (can you imagine just for a minute how that must feel at that level of publicity?) and she won’t be the last, I think her response to the matter provides us with an important teachable moment for our children/students.

Why does it matter so much what I was wearing? Why did no one ask my husband where he got his suit from? I felt wonderful in that dress. And surely that’s all that counts. I made a decision the following day that should I ever be invited to attend the Baftas again, I will wear the same dress. To make the point that it doesn’t matter what I wear; that’s not what I’m being judged on. With the added fun of answering the red-carpet question, “Where did you get your dress?” with “Oh, it’s just last year’s, pet”.

-Sarah Millican

Read Sarah Millican’s response here — Sarah Millican: Twitter was a pin to my excitable Bafta balloon.

Also read this great piece on PolicyMic by Julianne Ross, who ties in similar responses from Cate Blanchett, Emma Stone, and Gabourey Sidibe — Comedian’s Response to Criticism of Her Red Carpet Look Deserves a Standing Ovation

Such endless emphasis on looks implies that women’s bodies are always blank slates for commentary and criticism, and it trivializes their other, more meaningful, accomplishments. Comedy in particular is not known for being the most gender equitable industry; female comedians are often held to a higher standard of presentability and expected to be both hilarious and hot in a way that male comics aren’t. This makes Millican’s refusal to put up with this type of treatment all the more satisfying.

-Julianne Ross

Gabourey

Gabourey shows twitter how to *drop mic*. Dang girl!

 

I recommend that you read both links together with your kids and discuss a few points:

1) Talk about why women and their bodies are publicly discussed and judged in our culture.

2) Then talk about the effect that has on women, famous and not famous. Also, what effect does that have on boys and men?

3) Review some comments your child could say should he/she overhear people making judging or hurtful comments about someone’s appearance. It is fun to dress up and we often feel great when we do. Is it ever acceptable to tear someone down based on what they look like or what they are wearing?

4) Discuss if you have ever been on the receiving end of comments like this, but more importantly, if you have ever been the one making comments like this. I recently did this with my 8yo daughter while resolving some mean girl behavior at school that I was horrified to discover she was a part of. While having a conversation about accountability and empathy with my daughter we talked about her involvement, which was being a silent follower of the mean girls and how I felt that was worse of all because she was letting someone else think for her. We talked about leading with kindness. I let her know that her behavior was similar to what mean girls did to me in school and how sad and lonely it had made me feel. She was devastated and it opened her eyes to the situation from all angles.

5) Talk about the importance of appearance (as far as fitting into the Beauty Myth) over the importance of accomplishment, and why one matters and one does not. Also talk about how to demonstrate confidence and class.

 

Learn more about Sarah Millican and her fantastic career here.

Sarah Millican

I think Sarah Millican looks beautiful here, but for the record and more importantly she is hysterical which is just how I like my award-winning, sell-out crowd comedians.