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Mental Health

What My High School Dress Code Taught Me About My Body

I still remember confidently walking in to my high school, freshman year, in a pair of short denim shorts. My mom had just dropped me off before heading to work. As I attempted to walk through the gates, the vice principal grabbed my shoulder and asked for my name. 

“Cristina” she said, “Those shorts are way too short, you can either wear your gym shorts or go home and change.”

I panicked. I hadn’t been previously informed about the dress code policy or was even aware one existed at my school. I tried to explain to her that my mom was my ride and I would have to walk all the way home to change and be late for my first day of high school. The vice principal used her body to block my entrance to the school and refused to let me in.

Ashamed, I left and immediately called my mom. She was understandably annoyed as she was already halfway to work. But, she drove back to our house, picked up the first pair of pants she saw, and dropped them off to me as I sat on the curb of my school waiting. I proceeded to show the vice principal the jeans my mom had dropped off and she escorted me to the bathroom to change. The next day, I was given the dress code again because I was wearing a tank top underneath my cardigan. I had to button up my cardigan to be allowed into school. I am pretty sure I held the record for the most dress code violations during my four years there. 

Image via Trusted Clothes

I was unaware of it then, but the vice principal was body shaming me every time I was given a violation. I was constantly being told to cover my thighs, shoulders, or chest as it would divert male students’ focus away from their classes. In time, I came to believe my teenage body was just a distraction and became completely disassociated with it. This was easy to do if your body had been put on display to be critiqued at such a vulnerable age. My body was not my body. It was a piece of meat for boys to stare at, a tool for seduction; or so that is what my vice principal made me think. My favorite pair of shorts represented a symbol of sexuality that I only saw as a a pair of shorts.

At fourteen, the way I viewed myself had completely been transformed. I had an incredibly critical view of myself. My thighs were suddenly too fat, my shoulders too broad, my legs too stubby. I could not walk into my own school without being overtly conscious of the way I looked and how other people reacted to it. The dress code made it so boys were placed in an environment that fostered their learning at the expense of female students. It was made clear that a male student’s education was much more valuable than my own. They were an investment, while I was a distraction. As I reflect on these experiences, I realize I internalized a lot of undeserved shame over my body.Image via Metro

Though I still battle with my own reflection in the mirror, I have become aware that the female body is powerful. As much as institutions and figures of authority fight and challenge it, you should never give anyone the right to take this power away from you. You have a right to your own body and whatever you want to put on it. If anyone is averse to the way you look or dress, that is their problem and it has absolutely nothing to do with you. So, wear those jean shorts, that mini skirt, or that tank top and let everyone else deal with it.

Cristina is a third year pursuing a B.A. in Communication and a minor in Professional Writing. She hopes to use her degree to do social marketing for non-profit organizations. Her interests include all things food, writing (obviously), and beauty.
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