There are some things that I’m really bored of talking about, but I’m committed to the discussion until it is resolved. Near the top of this list is how women choose to dress, especially in environments where they’re just trying to get a little work done. This is particularly worrying when the focus is on the young; those going through formative period for, among countless other things, ideas about body image and self-esteem. It is also a period when, more than ever, girls and young women should be left alone to concentrate on their personal and professional aspirations rather than the height of their hemlines or how much make up they choose to wear. Yet once again the bodies of young women are grabbing negative headlines.
Last month the principle of the Ebbsfleet Academy in the UK recently defended their decision to send home girls whose skirts were deemed too short. Alison Colwell, the school’s head, said that if parents didn’t like the school’s strict uniform policy (skirts are required to be navy and no shorter than 5cm above the knee), then they could choose to have their daughters educated elsewhere. She added that the school was merely enforcing guidelines that are not uncommon, and that parents were warned well in advance that the checks would be taking place. Media sources state that around 5% of pupils were sent home on the first day of term after the Christmas holidays as their attire breached school rules. The school’s uniform policy is lengthy, detailed and strict, covering everything from hairbands to heel-heights.
Some schools are questioning whether uniforms should be gendered at all, and last year over eighty institutions in the UK removed any reference to girls or boys uniforms. This government-funded drive aimed to make schools more supportive of pupils questioning their gender-identity and was supported by international LGBT rights group Stonewall. While this is excellent news, it also takes some of the pressure away from young women. The UK women’s rights group the Fawcett Society advocate a single uniform list for each pupil that makes no reference to gender specifics. Their “Don’t Blame it on the Girls” campaign argues that gendered uniforms, and references to how they should be worn, can place girls at a disadvantage. They also waste the time of energy of teachers in policing these rules, and they undermine boys by implying that they can’t keep focused on their work if girls don’t cover up.
Yes, young people need to learn the importance of a smart appearance in the workplace and wider world, yet the focus is rarely on boys with long hair or untucked shirts. The perpetual scrutiny on the female body is damaging, particularly at such a young age. If you want to comment continually on what women are wearing, go and work at Vogue.
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