(This is going to be a post where a lot of you disagree with me.)
I am the dress code enforcer. I spent three years at my last school making sure that sweaters always covered butts, that shorts had inseams, and that boobs were fully contained. Anyone who knows me knows I love clothes. I love fancy skirts and high rise jeans and shoes of all types. I love new fashions and the return of old. So, while I listen to other teachers say, “I just don’t notice dress code,” I, instead, notice all the clothes, see the infraction, and spend the rest of the period thinking, “dress code, dress code, dress code.”
So, for three years, I said something, each and every time. It almost always started with, “I need you to go change.” It almost always resulted in an argument. Nine of ten times the student was convinced that their outfit was fine, that their shorts were cute, that their sweater absolutely 100% covered their butt, and that I was doing this to be a jerk. I wasn’t though. I was doing it because in my head I thought I need to teach them how to dress appropriately. ::vomit::
I’m going to digress for a moment and I hope you will stay with me. About a month ago I was having a conversation with my brother and a friend of his and it wound around as long conversations tend to do and got to the topic of body hair. Both my brother and his friend immediately said that they would happy change any of that for a partner, whereas I was a firm no. I wasn’t sure why but I was pretty sure I wasn’t willing to do that. The conversation continued to dating where brother’s friend say he would never date anyone who was pro-life. He said it was just against what he believed and that was where it hit me. I wouldn’t change my body hair. I wouldn’t date anyone who was pro-life. I wouldn’t give away any of my hard earned agency(1) over my body.
Women and girls spend years being told what their bodies should look like. What their hair should do. What their feet, boobs, eyes, lips, teeth should look like. How much of them they should show, how much of them they should hide. And those messages don’t agree with each other. At school boobs covered. On a date boobs out. Smile and greet people sometimes, other times you should put your head down and avoid eye contact.
It has taken me 28 years to really feel some sense of agency over my body and what I do with it. So as of today I am no longer enforcing dress code. I am no longer telling teenage girls what to do with their bodies. I am happy to sit down with them and talk about media influence and why people believe we need dress codes but I am not their mothers, sisters, or aunts. I am not them. I would really like to provide opportunities for my students to come to this on their own. I certainly refuse to impede it.
(1) definition of agency: a means of exerting power or influence; instrumentality.