Between the viral tweets about girls at summer camp being required to wear T-shirts over their swimsuits (while the boys go shirtless) and the dozens of messages we receive weekly about how to handle double-standard dress codes for girls, we decided to share a brief guide.
As you see double-standard dress code rules being enforced against girls and women, keep in mind that we live in a world that sees girls and women as bodies first and people second. When you see someone as a body first, you are likely tempted to try and regulate and monitor that person’s body, which often happens at their expense. The more we teach girls that they are here to be looked at, the more we keep them at a disadvantage. The more we value and devalue other women based on how they look and what they’re wearing — too fat, too thin, too covered up, not covered up enough — the more we keep them, and ourselves, at a disadvantage.
Here are some guiding questions and a script you can modify for your own use:
So, you feel uncomfortable at the dress code provided by your kid’s summer camp, school, or outdoor activity. Ask yourself why. What about the clothing rules raises a red flag for you?
- Do you feel like the guidelines are sexually objectifying your daughter — treating her as parts to be covered?
- Do they position her body as a threat to onlookers?
- Do they make the girls uncomfortable (T-shirts while swimming, long pants in summer heat) to prioritize the boys’ or male leaders’ comfort?
- Do they require girls to cover up parts that the boys can expose? Is it the double-standard of it all?
Then say that. Use your knowledge of your child and your status as their parent to relate to the leaders as a peer and caregiver. Try saying:
- I want my child’s safety and comfort — not their appearance — to be prioritized in this activity. She will be wearing a swimsuit approved by me that she can be comfortable in and move freely in and out of the water. She will not be required to wear a T-shirt over it because this is a safety hazard, a discomfort, and a distraction to her.
I want my child to understand her body is an instrument for her use, not an ornament to be looked at, including while swimming or playing. Long pants in the heat, extra clothing over swimsuits, and other rules that position her body as a sexual object to be shielded from others’ view is in opposition to the instrumental value I am working to instill in her understanding of her body.
I want my child treated equally with all the other children regardless of gender or appearance, including their dress code requirements. Just like boys, girls’ stomachs, backs, shoulders, and legs are not sexual and are not threats to anyone.
I want my child to know that they and everyone else are accountable for their own thoughts and actions, regardless of how anyone presents themselves. If anyone in proximity to my child has trouble seeing my child as a human and controlling their own thoughts and actions, that person’s misguided beliefs should be dealt with, not my child’s clothing. And kids should be taught it’s perfectly natural to be attracted to other people — no need to feel shame about that — but those people are not to blame for our thoughts and behaviors.
Please let me know if these expectations can be met, and if they can’t, please help me understand why not. I would love for my child to attend this activity, but excessively detailed dress codes for girls and not for boys sends the message that girls’ bodies are sexualized and threatening while boys’ bodies aren’t. This prioritizes heterosexual boys’ and men’s potentially objectifying views of girls’ bodies over the girls’ comfort, safety, and healthy body image.
I am prioritizing my child’s well-being and self-worth by helping her develop a healthy relationship with her body from the inside out, rather than the outside in. I hope this camp/activity will be aligned with our family’s values in this respect, but if not, I will seek other opportunities for my child.
If you’d like to learn more, I’d be glad to share my copy of More Than a Body by Lindsay and Lexie Kite, PhD, which has been a great resource for helping me better understand the importance of positive body image for everyone and how to break down some of the invisible barriers girls are up against in seeing themselves as more than a body.