It was my first day of senior year. I walked into my school feeling excited and anxious, but most of all, happy it was my last first day of high school. The last thing I expected was to be “dress-coded,” especially in the semi-conservative outfit I had on. As I was in line to get my book bag checked, one of my school’s administrators points and yells at me, “You, come here.” As I begin to walk toward her, she continues to look at me up and down with judgment in her eyes. She tells me my shirt is inappropriate because “you can see my collar bones and shoulder blades,” and that I should be thankful she isn’t sending me to ISS.
To say I was livid is an understatement. Not only had this woman managed to put a damper on my first day of senior year within the first five minutes of being back at school, but she also shamed me because of my collar bones and shoulder blades.
The dress code at my school states:
“students are expected to dress in a manner that is consistent with the basic educational mission of the Atlanta Public Schools and to avoid disruption of the instructional process.”
While it has always been strict in past years, it had never been enforced to this extent before. After a week, I decided I couldn’t tolerate it. Freshmen girls were crying in the hallways on a daily basis because of the way administrators were talking to them and making them feel. It would be one thing if these outfits consisted of crop tops or spandex shorts, but we were being berated for wearing leggings and an oversized T-shirts, all because it’s “disruptive.”
When I go to school, my main goal is to learn. While doing so, I would like to be comfortable. I don’t think this is asking too much. If I want to wear leggings, I should be able to wear leggings without being told it’s “disruptive.” The idea that girls should cover up in order to prevent boys from being distracted is a huge issue, and unfortunately, is implemented in dress codes of high schools across the country. Not only is it unfair that girls can’t dress comfortably, but it also contributes to much larger issues that society is facing today. It makes boys think that slut-shaming is perfectly OK, and even worse, makes guys think that when a girl is showing her body, that she is “asking for it.”
To worsen the matter, the administration could not have handled the dress code issues in a poorer manner. More often than not, girls get pulled out in the middle of the bag check line, and get yelled at in front of every other person in the bag check line. Not only is this embarrassing, but high school girls are insecure enough as it is. If a girl gets dress-coded for wearing the same thing as another girl who did not get dress-coded, she may begin to feel insecure or experience body negativity.
Instead of saying what we’re wearing isn’t appropriate, the administrators would say “How could your parents let you out of the house like that?” or “You better be thankful I’m letting you go to class and not suspending you.” Leggings aren’t distracting or the problem here. Talking to high school students in that manner and threatening not to let them go to class is what is truly distracting. Not to mention, completely unnecessary.
A petition was started by one of my classmates, and after two days, it had over 800 signatures comprised of both parents and students. What made me want to personally get involved, was walking by younger girls bawling within the first 20 minutes of school. I was in those girls’ position once, and it wasn’t fun. I felt like as seniors, it was up to us to speak up.
My friend Casey decided to schedule a meeting with our school principal, and ask him why the dress code made it nearly impossible for girls to dress comfortably. The morning of our meeting, we met at Starbucks beforehand to organize our thoughts so we could communicate our ideas effectively.
Our principal was already aware of the issue, since the petition at this point had 800+ signatures and close to 250 comments. We brought up the underlying sexism in the dress code, as well as the overly aggressive manner in which dress code punishment is carried out by administration. Not only did he take our thoughts into consideration, but he also sent out a letter that night with a newly revised dress code. From that point on, we would be able to wear leggings.
Speak up even when you think nothing can change. Teachers and peers laughed at the fact Casey and I thought we would be able to change what seemed to be etched in stone. Yet, it was done.
Photo by Roya Register, VOX staff
Roya, 17, attends North Atlanta High School.