This week, Toronto students decided to wear crop tops after their school deemed them inappropriate. The fallout has created national attention. At first glance, the story is about a kid who didn’t follow the dress code, but if you dig a bit deeper, you'll find something much more important.
Who makes up rules for dress codes and what are they? Do clothing choices actually impact learning or respect? And was the fallout really about the sexualization of youth?
For starters, when something this polarizing happens, I am chomping at the bit to have a great conversation with my kids. I want to teach them to be critical thinkers -- not to adopt my thoughts.
We don’t have to agree. We don’t have to be of the same mind set. But we do have to know how to respectfully manage disagreements. Perhaps that is why this story stands out for me.
In the past, if a student broke dress code they probably would have been sent home, or worse, expelled. That would cause other students to retaliate. They might have defaced school property, pulled the fire alarm or even started a bathroom fire in protest. But that didn’t happen in this case. Instead, the student, Alexi Halket, asked friends to wear crop tops in protest of her being sent home.
They did and they posted photos of themselves on social media, which led to a lengthy discussion with the principal. We should applaud a demonstration of the democratic process at work!
When I think about how youth dress for school, I'm reminded that clothing and hairstyles are a cultural phenomenon. Youth use their looks and attire as a way of creating an image for themselves. They project a persona and create an identity that helps foster affiliations with social groups. The goths, the geeks, the jocks all have their own “uniform” of sorts.
As a parent I want to help my children discover their true inner self, knowing the process of self-discovery is a journey of experimentation, and not giving any selection too much gravitas at any one moment. I want to enforce that it’s what’s the inside that counts.
As for how much skin is okay to expose, it’s important to remember that this is a cultural norm only. The boundaries of normative behaviour change over time. My mom was a teacher in the 70s when women were not allowed to teach in pants. That changed.
A decade or two ago, “Dress Down Fridays” for charity were popular as well, but now many workplaces accept jeans every day. Even an occasional dog under the desk and cocktail hour around a foosball table is considered the norm.
Life changes, society evolves. The period of adolescence is about making change. It’s their job. It’s their duty. It’s their contribution to advancement of the species.
Embrace change. If youth today all want to show their midriffs -- so be it.
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