To Belly Button or Not to Belly Button? Ins and Outs of School Dress Codes

By Ashley Begley

Embed from Getty Images

I went to Catholic school for 12 years. Twelve years! Needless to say, I am well acquainted with…The School Dress Code. I must confess—as one does in Catholic school—that I always had a love-hate relationship with the dress code. ’Cause how awesome was it to wake up ten minutes before I needed to leave and not have to worry about matching my shirt with my skirt?

Embed from Getty Images

Sure, I love plaid as much as the next gal (seriously, my closet is full of plaid—no kidding). But it’s interesting that a school policy designed to squelch individual expression and desexualize students has somehow shifted into a state of schoolgirl uniforms being iconically sexy. Does Britney Spears get all the credit for that?

Britney Spears’ Baby One More Time

In my school, the most radical thing we ever did to subvert the dress-code gods was roll our skirts up so they hit our knees (for all my friends out there who also went to Catholic school, “hit me baby” in the comments). In fact, recently at Tring School in England, nearly 150 female students were sent home on the first day of school for wearing their uniform skirts “too short”—that is, above the knee—and even parents were outraged at the decision that singled out girls, not boys.

Embed from Getty Images

“If a student or parent is unhappy with the policy in respect of the school skirt, then they have the choice to wear tailored trousers,” said Tring headteacher Sue Collins. Yeah, I remember the unisex pants from my Catholic school days—and who in his right mind thought that was a good idea? Those pants did not fit me in all the right places since, last time I checked, many girls’ bodies have natural curves.

“Take that, patriarchal oppression of women’s bodies.” —This woman, probably

Instead of sitting down and taking what’s doled out by school administrations, young women are giving the ol’ one-two to dress codes that don’t allow them to wear the clothes they love…

  • Cameron Boland, a junior in a Florida high school, was kicked out of her National Honor Society leadership position for wearing a spaghetti-strap dress to a school function. She went to the school board to protest the decision, and her NHS position was restored. “Cameron fought valiantly for what she truly believes—her strength and contribution to the NHS is her brain, not shoulders,” wrote her mom on
Embed from Getty Images
  • Sophie Thomas, an Ohio eighth-grader, wore a T-shirt bearing the word “Feminist,” and her middle-school principal Photoshopped it out of a school photo. Sophie and her mother successfully approached the principal—um, a woman—about educating students (and perhaps the principal herself) about feminism. Sophie also launched an Instagram account aptly tagged #ideservefreedomofexpression.

Generated by IJG JPEG Library

Photo Credit: #460354990 /

  • Alexi Halket, a Toronto high-schooler, organized “Crop Top Day” to draw attention to sexist practices that monitor girls’ attire rather than teaching boys to respect girls’ bodies. After Alexi was told to “cover up” her midriff by a school administrator, she took to Facebook and urged her peers, “Wear a bralette, sports bra, short crop top, or bandeau to stand in solidarity against making people (especially those of the female sex) cover their bodies because it’s ‘offensive’ and ‘inappropriate.’” Alexi contends that telling young women it is their job to cover up so as not distract the male students or, worse, to avoid being assaulted, is absurd. She says boys should be taught, “Women aren’t objects, and looking at them that way is disrespectful.”
Embed from Getty Images

“Girls go to school to learn,” Alexi says. “What they are wearing should not matter.” Note that Alexi states, “I currently identify as asexual, and am not attracted to anybody sexually, nor do I desire that in return. Me showing skin has nothing to do with attention and everything to do with my own personal comfort.” In support of Crop Top Day, women in communities throughout the world posted pictures to social media of themselves in crop tops. One woman aptly posted this message on Twitter:

my stomach
my shoulders
my breasts
my waist
my body
Weren’t created to please you.”
—Amanda @amanda_rankin29

In a similar stand of solidarity, a group of students in South Carolina recently protested their school’s new dress code policy requiring students to leave class if their attire were “in question.” In response to the policy, about 100 students, boys included, wore red A’s to school as an expression of the archaic judgment society tends to place on women as in the classic story The Scarlet Letter. “The dress code is important as it promotes a comfortable and professional learning environment. However, there is nothing comfortable or professional about being told you’re ‘asking for it’ or ‘selling yourself in the wrong way’ or being told your body is ‘gross,’” one of the students wrote on the campaign’s Instagram at #notadistractionsoa.

Embed from Getty Images

What say you? Does your school have a dress code that objectifies or demeans women? On a global scale, is the dress code comparable to a young woman who chooses to wear a hijab or other head-covering? Is this dress-code revolution culturally relevant to every young woman? What about a girl who doesn’t mind the dress code? And…did Britney Spears objectify herself in her iconic “Baby One More Time” video, or does she rock body-confidence that should be embraced? Let your thoughts fly freely in the comments—and if you start a dress-code revolution, we want to hear about it!

Embed from Getty Images

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s