What I’ll tell my daughters to wear to school

There are young girls all across this country actively distracting their entire student population and teachers every single day. At least if you believe what you read. What crazy acts of violence, illegal drugs, and debauchery are they partaking in this time? They wear yoga pants. Or formal dresses showing their shoulders. They show up to school with slightly pink hair after participating in a charity run. The audacity, right?

But don’t worry, they are getting what they deserve. They are being forced to leave dances, sent to detention, suspended, or better yet forced to wear a shame suit declaring them a criminal.

I know about these girls because I was one, long before anyone called out how ridiculous and sexist dress codes have become.

What led me to become the dress code violator of my time? A few simple factors.

-I was almost 6ft tall, and horribly gangly, by the 8th grade.

-To try to put my awkwardness to work, I played sports.

-Sports teams had to dress up on game day.

-I wanted to wear cute clothes to try to compensate for the fact I was 6ft tall and gangly.

That was it. That was what landed me in the principal’s office on a game day with my powder blue plaid skirt that was “not quite to the tip of my fingers” length.

My math teacher, who was SO not fond of me, had escorted me there to see  what the principal thought about my skirt. Once we arrived, I had to demonstrate that the bottom of my hem line was sightly above the length of my gigantic arms’ reach. That wasn’t all. Then, my teacher and the principal threw a pencil on the ground and asked me to demonstrate how I would pick it up in a skirt that short.

“I wouldn’t,” I replied firmly. “I’m wearing a skirt.”

They didn’t appreciate my candor.

Let’s say you really need the pencil, so you have to pick it up, they countered.

“I would ask a friend to pick it up for me.”

Still not what they were looking for. So finally, they told me I could either demonstrate how I would pick up the pencil, or I could go home to change.

All 6ft of my gangly, but athletic, body squatted down, picked up the pencil, and handed it to the principal without ever flashing them a glimpse of whatever they thought they would see.

When my mom found out what they did she was furious. She wasn’t furious at me for wearing a skirt that was slightly shorter than dress code.  She was furious at them for ridiculing me when I was not dressed inappropriately for a tall, 14 year old girl. I’ll never forget her response as she fumed over what happened.

“Wear a shorter skirt tomorrow.”

Wear a shorter skirt tomorrow. Not because I was a trouble maker. Not because I was determined to prove them wrong. Wear a shorter skirt tomorrow because I was completely capable of deciding what to wear for myself, and suffering the extreme consequences of not being able to pick up a pencil for a day when I did.

What happened in that office, and what is happening in schools across the country, is far worse than revealing clothing. It is telling young girls that their bodies are a problem and it is their responsibility to fix that.

Although my daughters are still a few years off from 14, I’ve already established my own dress code. Three questions that will determine if I think they should wear a specific outfit to school.

1) Are you comfortable? You have a long day ahead of you. There is running to be done, cartwheels to be mastered, and awe to be inspired. You need to be able to do those things.

2) Are you confident? Does what you are wearing make you feel like doing a jump kick? Good.

3) Is this your choice? Are these clothes that you are picking out because you really like them, or are you trying to please someone else? Because at the end of the day, it is you that has to be seen in them. So make sure it is your choice.

If the answer to those three questions, today and ten years from now, is yes then they can wear it.

Because I know that their bodies are not the problem. Because I know their bodies have multiple purposes during every single day, and being sexualized by viewers is not one of them. Because I know that no type of clothing restrictions are going to solve the culture problem we are experiencing.

I think about that moment in the principal’s office a lot, and what it taught me about the things my administrators were concerned with. They never asked me how I felt in what I was wearing. They never asked why I had chosen that specific outfit. They never asked if I had alternative clothes at home. They never asked if I had experienced harassment, taunting, or inappropriate comments. They never asked me if I was comfortable, confident, and if it was my choice. They never asked anything, really.

Except for me to pick up a pencil.

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