Through my eyes: dress code edition

The sexualization promoted through the dress code at RV promotes the opposite of what it intends

Anjali Darji, Opinions Writer

I always thought school was a safe place. It was for me, for a really long time.

And when a place that used to make you feel safe sexualizes you, you do not know what to do.

I am a sensitive person, some may not think so, but I am. I am an insecure teenage girl. My perceptions of what I should and can wear have been influenced by my parents, the media and my school.

Now I acknowledge that despite the circumstances, I broke a rule. I know that, but I am not sorry. The way it was handled by the supposed better-knowing adult, was simply wrong.

I went to school and I liked my outfit but I was worried about it because of the baggy shorts. I was uncomfortable because they were kind of open, so I put tights on. I looked nice all while avoiding a dress code violation. 

Nope. I got dress-coded for my shirt. 

I walked into school through the cafeteria, then headed to a club meeting. As I was walking there in my heeled combat boots, tights, shorts and shirt, which was pulled down and tucked into my shorts because of the no midriff policy, I walked past a teacher. 

“Hey you!” he said. At first I thought he was talking to someone else because I usually don’t get called in the hallways. 

“Me?” I responded.

“Yeah, you. What’s your last name? You are in violation of the dress code.”

Confused, I said “What do you mean?” I looked down and my shirt was up a little bit and he told me to zip my leather jacket. The shirt was less than an inch up. I was walking, it rode up a bit, naturally. When you get up, you pull your shorts down, it is how it works. It must have gone up when I was walking and I did not consciously notice. But I was tugging on it because I must have been subconsciously fixing it. I definitely would have fixed it when I got to where I was going.

I had a jacket on. I had high-rise shorts on. I had tights on. My shirt was tucked in my shorts. The teacher really had to have been looking. My jacket was barely open and my laptop was covering my stomach. He had to have been looking real hard.

I thought high school was about the students and for the students. Why is RV perpetuating this problem? Who does my midriff offend? Just like how my shoulders do not offend anyone, my midriff isn’t offending anyone either.

I am really conscious about stuff like this because I really care about school. All of these years I have been passive to all this. After I got dress-coded, I went through the E-Wing to get to the PAC, where the meeting was, and I went to the bathroom and cried. 

 I cried because he shamed me.

I told everyone that it was a bad week and that it all just piled up. But getting dress-coded opened a lot of wounds I thought had healed. Common teenage insecurity, eating disorders and other things. When the teacher dress-coded me he asked my name and told me I was in violation. He told me he dress-coded at least 10 kids today. And he was proud of it, you could hear it in his voice. And he said, “if you do this again you’re going to get detention.” I get that this is a warning, but it felt like a threat. 

Since the beginning of time women and girls have been sexualized and seen as objects. And although it has been perpetrated through many things, it has often been by men. This man who I am supposed to respect does not respect me. Not only is there a lack of respect, but he also sexualized me by saying my shirt was riding up; it was not a crop top, and showing minimal midriff, which I was trying to fix while wearing a jacket, was breaking the dress code. And when I simply tried to explain my side, he cut me off. I get that teachers can assert authority over students, but no one deserves to be treated like an object, like dirt, like they do not mean anything. The school dress code clearly and unfairly targets female-identifying students by putting restrictions on items of clothing generally worn by the female population. 

I get that teachers can assert authority over students, but no one deserves to be treated like an object, like dirt, like they do not mean anything. The school dress code clearly and unfairly targets female-identifying students by putting restrictions on items of clothing generally worn by the female population. 

An argument often used for the rule is that it prevents distractions. My midriff is a distraction? No one was distracted by me. But you know who was distracted by getting dress-coded? Me. I could not stop thinking about that moment. The disrespect. The glee in his eyes. I had a test first block and all I could think about was that. And I could not focus. I was the one affected. And I was the one distracted. 

The same scene kept playing over and over again in my head. It went on for a week. And as time passes it slowly leaves my main thoughts. But its presence remains. 

It has been a month. And I still think about it often. That day I was scared. 

Why does the rule even exist in the first place? Why is my midriff being sexualized? Ignoring my experience, why is midriff at all banned? When I spoke to a female teacher after getting dress-coded to see if I could maybe help change or alter this rule, she told me I could never do it and that it is not worth it. She then proceeded to tell me it was because they do not want half-naked girls walking around school. People like that are the kinds of feminists who claim to be feminists but in actuality shame women who do not fit their mold of modesty.

It was difficult to hear another teacher sexualize nudity. I know it may be an unpopular or uncommon concept, but for centuries the human body has been regarded as art. You walk around museums and you will see dozens of statues depicting human anatomy and genitalia. The school equated a couple of inches of midriff to a sexually charged distraction. For who?

I would love to know why the school continues to protect this kind of inappropriate thinking and instead make students insecure and perpetrate the sexualization they hate so much.

I recognize this is a public school. There has to be rules. But this is a school, where students learn and grow and form the ideals they tend to apply to the rest of their lives. And we are teaching students to sexualize girls and women and midriffs. 

The first thing an important person in my life, whose opinion I value very much, asked when I told them what happened was, “Was it your fault?” I get that, and I accept that it is my fault for wearing those clothes. What I have not accepted is that this rule continues to exist. I got dress-coded for a not-so-clear-cut reason, and I have a defense, but that is not enough. It only goes to show what an antiquated code RV follows. RV continues to sexualize people and specifically, in this case, girls.

I propose a change. 

I understand that excessive skin exposure, such as the amount in low rise jeans and bra-like crop tops may be too much, but a couple of inches, especially factoring in that many students wear high rise pants and longer crop tops, which would only equate to three inches of midriff at most.

To clarify, I support student choices of what they wear, whether it includes a midriff or not. Schools continue to support conservative dress codes. A no-midriff-above-three-inches rule would give leeway and would be a good compromise.


Consider signing this petition to show your support for the change:

Change Rancocas Valley Regional High School’s Dress Code to Allow Three Inches of Midriff