I have been out of high school for three years now. But recently my friend and I had a conversation about the high school we went to and I was reminded of my near-detention-experience when I first moved there.
And let me tell you, being reminded of the time you hated your body the most and had the least confidence is not fun.
However, my reflection on this experience made me realize just how sexist high school dress codes really are and how damaging they can be to a young girl's body image.
I moved to Florida (from Chicago) just before my sophomore year of high school. I definitely wasn't used to the heat.
During the first week of school, I wore shorts that were above mid-thigh — the general limit for shorts in most high schools — and no one said anything to me, so the next week, I wore the same shorts again.
As I was walking to my first class, a man who worked for the school (I wasn't sure what his job was) yelled "Hey you!" at me. After realizing he was referring to me, I went over to him and he told me that my shorts were too short and handed me a referral.
I had no idea what a referral meant because my old school didn't have that system, but my friend told me that it was definitely not good.
Later in the school day, I was called out of class. I went to the office of some higher-up in the school and he told me that I would have to go to detention later that week.
I broke down. It was my first week at a new school in an entirely new state. I felt lost and lonely and now I had detention on top of all that. I had been a great student all my life and I was terrified this would reflect badly on my future.
All for wearing shorts that I had worn the week before.
Though I was still crying like crazy, I had to report back to my class. Luckily it was during choir, where my director helped me stop sobbing by doing breathing exercises with me until I had returned to normal.
I felt like a pile of garbage for the rest of the day and recounted what had happened to my parents when I got home. My mom was enraged and called the principal. Usually, I would get embarrassed by my mom fighting my battles for me, but this time I let her.
The next day, I got called out of class again to meet with the principal and he apologized, telling me that I wouldn't have to go to detention but to not do it again.
Though I was relieved I didn't have to go to detention, the damage had already been done. I stopped wearing those kinds of shorts because obviously if the school thought they were slutty, they must have been slutty.
From sophomore year until halfway through senior year, I only wore capris and baggy cargo or jean shorts (even outside of school). They were unflattering and made me feel ugly. I went on thinking I just wasn't cut out for the whole "being pretty" thing for two years.
I'm not saying that this experience gave me self esteem issues. Those were already there. But it just confirmed my fears and insecurities. I was taught that wearing what made me feel good and showing my body was shameful and wrong.
It took a long time to break out of that.
But when reflecting on the experience as an adult, I realize that it goes even deeper than that.
Why are high school girls not allowed to show their shoulders, thighs, and back? Because that might distract the hormonal boys from their schoolwork.
I was pulled out of class twice — which distracted me from my education — because of the possibility of my thighs distracting a boy from his education. This implies that a boy's education was more important than mine.
Frankly, if a boy's getting turned on by a girl's shoulders, that's his problem, not hers.
Whether it was the intended purpose or not, dress codes teach young girls that their bodies are shameful distractions to boys that need to be hidden in order to be accepted.
How about instead of teaching girls to hide their bodies, they teach boys to respect women and not objectify them?
I hope that in the future, schools make their dress codes and the way they enforce them more equal to all genders so that young girls can be spared the issues I (and so many other women everywhere) went through.
Their bodies are their home forever, so they should be taught to love them, not hide.