Last month, a Black high school student in Texas got suspended for over two weeks because of his hairstyle. The school said that his hairstyle violated their dress code for falling below his earlobes and eyebrows which they consider as not appropriate for male students.
My first thought about this news is that dress code policies should not be used as a weapon to discriminate against minorities and enforce gender stereotypes. However, as someone who is not part of the Black community, I will not go further into this issue. I will not touch on hair policies associated with racial discrimination, which I have clearly not experienced. I am going to talk about the many outdated policies in multiple schools around the world and how I feel about them.
First of all, why do policies exist in the first place? Schools say policies are needed to protect their students, lead them into a better direction and form a healthy educational environment. But what does a student’s choice of style or fashion have anything to do with that? Simply, it doesn’t. Sadly, these policies not only exist in schools and companies in the U.S., but also in many other places around the world. Many are enforced for cultural, religious and political reasons and have existed since the school or company was established. However, many of them are misogynistic, as they are mainly targeted against women and girls. Some Japanese schools even banned ponytails and restricted the color of female students’ underwear, claiming that it is “sexually distracting” for male students and teachers.
These policies can only be outdated from a modern point of view, as the freedom to dress and style however we want is widely accepted. Commonly known as dress codes, I have personally experienced being controlled by these appearance policies. I attended a strict public school in another country and it was frustrating having to follow all these rules that should have been abolished years ago. While I do understand if the school has a certain uniform to wear and TPO (time, place and occasion) is important, which is why those with common sense wouldn’t wear beachwear to classes, a lot of these rules are unnecessary and have nothing to do with diminishing the academic environment and safety of the school. Even if students start caring a lot more about their appearance without dress policies, that does not mean it would distract them from studies and they would become less of a student. Many of the smartest, most academically-driven students I knew also liked to take care of themselves and their appearance. Being creative does not take away time from self-development. Rather, looking after our appearance is part of our self-development and can play a huge factor in boosting our self-confidence. Not that I am saying that those who do not wear fashionable clothes have low self esteem, but it is true for many of us that we feel much better after wearing our perfect outfit or styling our hair. Therefore, we shouldn’t be taught to be ashamed of wanting the freedom to dress and style ourselves however we want to.
Rather than restricting one’s hairstyle for the purpose of protecting other students from “distraction,” schools should focus on other serious matters that are happening in school. I think most of us can agree that those schools care more about the female students’ skirt length than the actual bullying that is happening on school grounds. Going back to the Japanese school I mentioned earlier, this gives the impression that schools are just too lazy to educate about social misjustice and view dress codes as the easier way to control the victims.
The primary focus for schools should be creating a safe environment for students and teaching them about acceptance and respect for others, not playing a game of whack-a-mole to oppress students with a different or unique style. It is ironic how schools should be the ones to teach students that no one should be judged by their appearance, but they are the ones who are judging the most.