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A Woman Without Shoulders

Jessica Fathers, Writer

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I look at the wide variety of colors and patterns in my cramped closet. Too cropped. Too low. Too short. Too see-through. I guess it’s okay to wear a sweater and jeans again—it’s a nice sweater. I get to Woodside Priory School and walk into my French class, conjugate some overcomplicated verbs, and an hour and a half later, pack up my things to go to break. 

Just as the class is leaving, I hear, “Pouvez-vous rester s’il vous plaît, Jessica?” Could I please stay? I turn around, seeing my French teacher looking mundanely at my face. “D’accord, monsieur.” Of course. 

I walk over, confused. He asks me to sit in my chair and lean on my desk. Still confused, I oblige. He then requests I lift my arms above my head. 

He told me when I bend over on my chair, my sweater rides up my back, exposing my lower back. In English, he says, “I’m afraid that’s a dress code violation, and a detention.” 

 

Between 1999 to 2015, the percentage of American public schools that required students to wear uniforms increased from 12 to 21%, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Many school boards use the argument that uniforms and dress codes create discipline, which may result in an increase in test scores or behavior. However, teens are more likely to rebel against something if they are forced to do it. 

For some, uniforms and dress codes deprive students of freedom of expression. A YEAR study by the University of Nevada showed that 90% of the students were unhappy wearing uniforms. 

Like me, many high schoolers at Woodside Priory, located in Portola Valley, Calif., feel better knowing the institution doesn’t want to hide what students should be proud of: their bodies. 

Students usually hear from the school’s decision makers—teachers and parents—that clothing that exposes shoulders and thighs is distracting to surrounding students. 

Although many students at Woodside Priory have fought for the right to show their skin for years, the dress code in the student handbook has yearly increased the amount of rules, as well as the intensity of the punishment for disobeying them. The school’s current dress code states that “undergarments may not be visible at any time.” The punishment used to be one day in the schools dress-up uniform worn in mass. Now, the handbook states that it’s detention.

The claim is that shoulders and visible undergarments are distracting to students. Yet, Woodside Priory sophomore John Max Byrne says that he “couldn’t care less what the girls are wearing. Shoulders are just joints that stick out of our necks.” 

 

Some parents also believe dress codes can be ineffective.

“The ultimate goal of dress codes is to equalize students,” says Claire Fathers, whose three children attend Woodside Priory. “Unfortunately, this is lost in gender inequality both in the workplace and schools.”

The initial reasoning for a dress code may seem harmless. Until the issues of gender inequality and excessiveness are raised. 

“The boys’ dress code isn’t unfair, I just kind of wish I could wear clothes that were more comfy,” says Woodside Priory freshman West Currier. 

While many female students worry about concealment, some male students are worried about the discomfort they cause. Having to wear jeans and closed toe shoes everyday can be bothersome. For Byrne, walking from class to class would be much simpler if students could wear lighter footwear.

 

At Woodside Priory, uniforms are also seen as controversial. To some students, such as junior Cynthia Castelo, uniforms are “restrictive and don’t allow students to express themselves.” 

Yet, for those in support of dress codes and uniforms, they can show school pride and spirit. Only a few miles away from Woodside Priory, at the all-boys school Serra School, senior Kyle Lespade believes uniforms are “really important.”

“They are worn to show school pride, but there should be a dress code for the students instead,” says Lespade, who believes this is a common opinion at his school, in which the use of uniforms are enforced. 

Some parents appreciate the idea of having a uniform, as it might help bring students together. Lespade’s father, Francoise Lespade, notes that “uniforms are a good idea because people get too concerned about what they wear and uniforms remove that pressure.” 

Still, uniforms do not create the same amount of harm and injustice as dress code. Dress codes give students freedom but limit it. Uniforms create a more equal environment where everyone is equally restricted, besides promoting discipline and concentration. 

 

However, uniforms still can be restricting. Some students feel uncomfortable wearing uniforms, as it is the case of Samantha Parker, a junior at Sunnyslope High School in Phoenix. 

“When I think of me having to wear a uniform, it gives off the wrong impression of myself,” Parker says. “I don’t want to be seen as the person who wears a uniform.” 

All teenagers are different when it comes to what helps them concentrate in school. Some people like to be modest, but others like to be comfortable and express themselves. There is nothing wrong with either. When you force students to wear something, or censor their choice of clothes, this breaks the freedom of expression. 

Teachers can’t force people into thinking that skin coverage equals a better life for a student and the students around them. Let teens be who they are. That’s what will help them most in school. 

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A Woman Without Shoulders