The“why”“what” of dress codes
As much as they reasonings above have their basis in some sound logic–including preventing issues of gang tensions, gun control, and intruder recognition–their gendered assumptions have resulted in female and non-binary students being targeted. People who identify as women, or who choose to wear clothes commonly understood as being “feminine,” are taught to believe that their bodies and methods of self-expression factor into some sort of “problem.” As Brock University’s Shauna Pomerantz puts it, they are “positioned” as “irresponsible, deviant, and in need of help.”
In effect, dress codes strip the student of agency over their body and give that agency to figures of authority. The impacts of this effect are far-reaching and, of the research I conducted, no proof of that fact was more compelling than the testimonials of my peers. Though they came from both public and private high schools, and from diverse gender backgrounds, their responses contained remarkably similar themes. Below, I’ve attached a few quotes expressing what I found to be the most universal sentiments (responses were given under the condition of anonymity).
“The weirdest feeling is having a teacher come up to you and say that what you’re wearing isn’t appropriate. Especially the male ones. The fact that I know they’ve been looking just makes me really uncomfortable”
“As someone who was assigned female at birth, but wears ‘girl’ clothes some days and ‘boy’ clothes on others, the difference in how I feel and how I’m treated depending on what I’m wearing is crazy.”
“It just makes me feel stupid sometimes. Like, if I think I look good one day and someone comes up to me and tells me I have to change I feel like I shouldn’t even be trusted to dress myself.”
“I just hate that I have to worry all the time about who’s looking at me and what I need to cover up…I see the guys wearing whatever they want without anyone saying anything about it.”
How can gratitude help?
One of the many positive psychology concepts we focused on in class was gratitude — something most of us have been acquainted with since our elementary school days. “Why gratitude,” you might ask, “to help solve the issue of students uncomfortable with the way their schools police their choice of clothing?” Rather than focus on changing the more systemic problem of dress codes in general, I wanted my work to center around positive psychology’s focus on the pre-existing strengths of the individual.
But first, some background
As the video above describes, practicing gratitude releases dopamine, a “feel-good” neurotransmitter whose positive effects compound upon themselves the more that gratitude pathways in the brain are traveled. As we discussed various methods of practicing gratitude that were directed outward in class, it became clear to me that those practices would be just as effective when applied with an inward focus. The release of dopamine brought about by encouraging those students being discriminated against to recognize the value of their clothing and bodies would work directly to counteract the negative effect of schools’ often toxic rhetoric surrounding the topic. Another major point of the background video I created was that choosing to maintain an active focus on the good in life resulted in increased overall well-being. By promoting student focus on the good within themselves as opposed to the “bad” of the school system, I hoped achieve the same effect.
...so what exactly are we going to do about it?
Gratitude Practices + the Buddy System
In creating a set of resources that are not only low-commitment, but also easy to share, I hope that students of gender minorities are able to incorporate gratitude into their lives and improve their sense of self-confidence. Those individuals who do not identify with the target group, or who do not feel an exercise is conducive to their use, can recommend exercises to their peers/acquaintances who would be better served. The capacity for sharing and convenient use of my adapted set of gratitude exercises makes them particularly well-suited for use within a buddy system, wherein students at the same school can be paired with one another to provide easy contact in times of discomfort during the school day. Working off of the list of practices above, they will try what exercises they feel are best for them and share their progress with one another, being sure to make recommendations to as they continue their work. Over time, they can adapt practices or create new ones to share with the other buddies at their school.
Take a moment to share
Feel free to leave your responses to my questions in the comments below. Thank you so much for visiting!
- If you are a student that has faced a level of discrimination based on what you chose to wear, how do you feel your experience has been similar/different to the ones outlives in the testimonials above?
- Which of the exercises above do you feel you would be most likely to use yourself or recommend to a friend? Why?
- How do your clothes make you feel particularly free to exercise your right to self-expression? How do they make you feel comfortable and confident in your skin?