Is this Appropriate or Not?

by Irina Sandoval

Is it appropriate or not?

“If you have the figure it looks nice, but honey, you have to have a figure to carry out certain dresses… but it depends on your figure.” These are the words of LIBRA Academy’s assistant principal Ms. Cervantes. At LIBRA, many describe the administrators as “rude” when it comes to their comments when they approach students about what they’re wearing. How justified LIBRA’s staff members are when they make their remarks has become a common topic of discussion by many as they question, is it body shaming or not?

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So what is appropriate and what’s inappropriate to wear to school? LAUSD “believes that appropriate student dress contributes to a productive learning environment” (LAUSD Policy Bulletin: Student Dress Codes/Uniforms). At LIBRA, students are free to express themselves and dress how they like, as long as they have an approved uniform shirt. Despite this there are many limitations and restrictions that come with enforcing the dress code. Open-toed shoes are not allowed, but the more important issue many are concerned with are shorts and ripped jeans. Ripped jeans are fine, as long as underwear is not visible. The policy is that shorts need to touch your middle finger when they’re down by your side, and not any shorter than that. “When they're too short there's several things that could happen,” assistant principal Ms. Cervantes elaborates. “First of all it's inappropriate. If you have to be tugging at them maybe you're uncomfortable with it… everything goes up so you're very uncomfortable, you're more aware of what you're wearing.”

When a student is wearing something considered inappropriate by a staff member, they are typically approached and a remark is made about their clothing. “One time I was wearing my denim skirt and she [Ms. Cervantes] called me over and said ‘Sweetie you are so pretty, but that skirt ruins it’” shares a LIBRA junior. If her clothes were truly inappropriate, she’d be asked to change, but that was not the case. So are such comments truly necessary? Chemistry teacher Mr. Chang comments, “You have to understand that they’re [LIBRA’s staff members] coming from a traditional setting. You have to consider that this is a professional setting.”

“Being a bigger size girl, it really gets frustrating when I’m not allowed to wear certain things at school,” student Maria Hernandez expresses her concerns. “When it’s really hot I want to wear my shorts.” She isn’t the only student that feels this way. When it's hot, people want to wear shorts without being told that it's “for attention” or too inappropriate. “I’ve been dress coded about 7 or 8 times,” says student Ielynn Cota who’s been reprimanded countless times for wearing shorts or jeans that are too ripped. “I find it kinda dumb to spend all that time addressing what I’m wearing when I should be in the classroom.”

With a countless number of occasions during which this has happened, the controversial topic of body shaming comes up. Body shaming is “the action or practice of humiliating someone by making mocking or critical comments about their body shape or size”(oxforddictionaries.com). When asked about this, Ms. Cervantes said, “You’ve gotta give credit to people who have a healthy self esteem in their figure. But you also have to give credit to people who know what is appropriate for their body type.” In her opinion, it isn’t body shaming and people will only perceive it that way if they were already feeling self conscious. “The perception is different. If you already feel uncomfortable, and you know it's uncomfortable, if somebody makes a remark [about what you’re wearing] I brought up what you were already feeling.” The way a student dresses can lead to comments and opinions, “It looks classier I think if you wear something nice,” says Ms. Cervantes.

Putting people down for their bodies has negative effects on their health. According to cnn.com, “A new study found that overweight women who believe negative messages about their bodies are at greater risk for heart disease and diabetes than those who maintain a more positive body image.” It’s detrimental to not only mental health, but physical health too.

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Dress codes differentiate based on gender, in many ways accommodating males and ensuring that their learning environment isn’t disturbed by what the girls are wearing. This isn’t inclusive of students that don’t identify with a male or female gender. According to Rowena Lindsay from the Christian Science Monitor, “Dress codes are typically divided along a gender binary, making it difficult for trans and gender non-conforming students.” Aside from this, dress codes are also accused of perpetuating rape culture.  Dress codes at other schools similar to the dress code implemented by staff members at LIBRA Academy have been targets of movements against sexism and discrimination. Many campaigns have “criticized the school dress codes for making girls responsible for preventing harassment from boys – logic that, they argue, contributes to rape culture where victims are blamed for dressing provocatively” (the Christian Science Monitor).

Staff members have the responsibility to enforce the uniform policy and dress code, and it goes beyond just wearing the uniform shirt. “Regardless of what your shape is or your figure, short shorts are not appropriate and that’s a school policy anywhere you go. It really is up to the administration to enforce it,” says Ms. Cervantes. “I think there’s things appropriate for every occasion.”