How can gratitude improve the self-confidence of students in gender minorities suffering from discrimination on the basis of dress?

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The“why” 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.”  


“…the new generation of dress codes…position[s] girls as irresponsible, deviant, and in need of help”

Shauna Pomerantz, The Alberta Journal of Educational Research


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).


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

Short video explaining the neuroscience of gratitude

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. 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.

Buddies will…

  • 1. Be paired within the same school

  • 2. Commit to being contacts for each other to reach during times of need during the school day

  • 3. Work from the list of gratitude practices above and share their progress

  • 4. Help one another to continue to adapt exercises to suit their needs as a collective

Take a moment to share

Feel free to leave your responses to my questions in the comments below. Thank you so much for visiting!

  1. 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?
  2. Which of the exercises above do you feel you would be most likely to use yourself or recommend to a friend? Why?
  3. 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?

Works Cited



  1. Hi Ariana, Nice work on this project! I learned a lot, and I think your use of the video/presentation was really clever and added a lot to the project. I like how you built a lot of your project based off of material learned in class but also expanded on questions connected to gratitude practices specifically and what interests you. Was it hard to strike that balance? Did you consider that balance while you were working?

    1. Thank you so much Jay! I definitely tried to consider the extent to which I wanted my work to build off of what we did in class. That balance was especially relevant when I was creating the gratitude practices. Though each of my practices followed the format of ones we had discussed together, I adapted them to have a more specific focus that would produce an effect targeted to what I was interested in.

  2. Hey Ariana! I learned a lot from your presentation. Personally, I’ve never faced issues with dress code, but I’ve had a lot of friends who have, and I’ve also noticed a trend in disproportionate code enforcement with pretty privilege and society-enforced body standards. I think that gratitude can definitely help, and I loved the images in your presentation detailing different gratitude practices and how they can be applied to our appearance, but I also think that having everyone understand that our bodies and how we look are the least important things about us, and our personalities should be valued way more than our appearance. This was really helpful and educational to me, great job!

    1. Hi Callie, and thank you so much for your feedback! I definitely agree that appearance is far from the most important thing about a person, as much it’s become excessively valued in today’s world. I tried to focus on clothing as a means of self-expression less than a symbol of appearance, but I definitely see how a more “body-neutral” might better suit some students’ healing process.

  3. Hi Ariana! This is such an important topic that so many of us think about yet never actually say it aloud. Your presentation is super organized and effectively states the main points. Personally, I have always experienced a dress code that is essentially used only for females, and of course, sometimes this dress code can be ridiculous since everyone is usually dressed. Clothing trends are also very interesting and I think that they can indicate what society wants people to dress up as. Then furthermore sometimes society labels people based on clothing trends which I do not think is ok either. Nice work!

  4. Hi Ariana! I really like your presentation! I like all the information you included and all of the graphics and pictures you used. I also did gratitude for my project, so it was nice to see gratitude from another perspective. I learned a lot from your project!

  5. Ariana, what a thoughtful question you composed that you then answered with informative, science-based evidence and really practical actions to take in response. I love the idea of paired buddies, and I’ll also be personally taking away “3 Good Things” as a practice I would like to develop for myself. It’s easy to understand that being grateful is positive, but seeing the science behind it really helped convince me of how important it is. Thank you!

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