Within my dresser drawers at home, packed with clothes old and new, sits a pile of clothing that I have deemed “not school appropriate.” Within this pile lie shirts that dip just a little too low or are cropped a little too short. Though I am lucky to go to a school without a mandatory dress code, there is still an unspoken rule about what you should or shouldn’t wear. There have even been instances at school where female students have been berated for wearing tops that revealed their bra. Even though the school doesn’t have a rule, the faculty and administration have an opinion.
Similarly, in the grueling search for my junior prom dress, I had to make sure that I didn’t choose a dress that was too revealing to avoid looking “tacky,” which is really just code for “slutty.” Teenage girls are constantly reminded to be modest and are disparaged when they they show a little extra skin. At a time in our lives when we should be getting used to our sexuality, young women are being told to repress it, especially in the form of clothing. If we don’t, we get a label assigned to us from a short, uncreative list: slut, whore, tramp.
Cultural icons that teen girls look up to, people like Beyoncé and Rihanna, have used their clothing and their sexuality as an expression of power. On the red carpet, they have no problem showing off their bodies. At the 2015 Met Gala, Beyoncé wore a jaw dropping barely-there gown with jewels strategically placed to cover her more intimate areas and sheer fabric elsewhere. Even more iconic was Rihanna’s dress at the CFDA Awards in 2014 where she rocked a sheer shimmery dress, sans bra, with just a skin toned thong. But, when they wore these dresses, were they called sluts? Did society condemn them? No. Society decided to treat their bodies as strong, not scandalous. They were predominantly met with “Yes Queen” and “Slayyyy.” They were seen as displays of female empowerment.
But why is it, that when a teenage girl wears a skirt that’s a little “too short” or a shirt that’s a little “too low cut” they are called sluts, attention seekers, and are accused of “asking for it”? No nipples are shown, all major parts are covered, but she’s still a sexual object? Showing more skin have the potential to be viewed a way of championing women’s bodies as a symbol of female strength and empowerment, like Rihanna and Beyoncé, but there is a fine line between whether society sees sexuality as empowering or objectifying. And it seems like the younger generations always fall on the wrong side of the line.
Girls all over the country are being sent home from school for wearing clothing deemed inappropriate or are told by their parents to march back upstairs and change. The effects of these dress codes go much farther past making getting dressed in the morning an inconvenience. Young women’s mindsets are being warped when adults decide the clothing a girl wears is the most important thing about her. Young girls are being conditioned to think that the way they look is more important than their goals, knowledge, and values. This conditioning perpetuates a sexist environment for girls from the time they are just pre-teens that last through adulthood, beginning the pattern of women being portrayed as sexual objects. If those influencing young people, like their parents and teachers, promote the idea that a girl’s body and clothing define her more than her thoughts, how can we expect societal beliefs about women to evolve?