child development

Mandatory School Uniforms Won’t Save Girls’ Confidence

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Mandatory School Uniforms Won t Save Girls  Confidence school uniforms for girls jpg

In the Belfast Telegraph, writer Mary Kenny details how she thinks teenage girls should be made to wear school uniforms basically for their own psychological protection. SIGH. Here we go:

 …there is a strong case for retaining the uniform habit during most of the teen years. Especially for girls. That may sound discriminatory, but it accords with some basic biological facts.

Gender essentialism? CHECK. She continues:

We are increasingly aware of the pressures foisted on teenage girls today. The bullying issue has been highlighted often enough — young girls have felt driven to suicide by the harassing texts and spiteful remarks they have received.

But it’s not just the bullying, it’s the propaganda to grow up too fast, to look perfect and flawlessly groomed at all times.

So how to take the pressure off of young girls? Put them all in uniforms, of course!

We need to be working to create a world where teenage girls are respected, understood, and listened to, not one where they’re shoved into the same clothes in some misguided attempt to keep them mentally sound. I know that’s kind of an extreme rewrite of her argument, but I’m really resistant to the suggestion that girls—and not boys—can benefit from wearing mandatory school uniforms. If you’re going to call for kids to wear uniforms, why not call for ALL kids to wear them? Last I checked, boys are vulnerable in their teen years, as well.

Kenny is right about one thing, though: That we live in an incredibly image-based society. She says:

The adolescent years can be awfully confusing, and young people have to be given time to grow up; to find themselves and to be sheltered from the chill winds of body-image competition. Ideals of beauty and perfection have always existed, but global culture today is relentlessly image-based. And it can be cruelly humiliating for a young person to feel they are inadequate to the templates that are held before them through every screen they open.

Saying that uniforms create a “democracy of appearance,” though, just isn’t true. It’s a fallacy that’s rooted in good intentions, but I doubt that it holds in practice, considering there are about a billion factors that go into self-confidence and body image aside from the clothes you put on your body.

Kenny’s suggestion that schoolgirls should “look…like lumpy great Amazons who would terrify you on the hockey pitch, dressed in baggy and unflattering school uniforms” shifts the responsibility for our crazy image obsession away from society and the media and onto teenage girls themselves. That’s wrong. I also think the suggestion that all schoolgirls wear uniforms infantilizes teenagers, who are a hell of a lot smarter and savvier than most people give them credit for.

Still, I have a few friends that went to an all-girls’ school where they wore uniforms, and I know they appreciated not having to worry about what to wear every morning before school. Maybe they even felt less image-based pressure overall. I can’t say for sure, as I would have absolutely abhorred wearing a uniform and probably would have whined to my parents until I could go to a school that would let me wear the emo-chic clothes I favored as a teen.

Either way, I still think that calling for mandatory school uniforms for girls (Only girls! Not boys!) is incredibly problematic and yes, kind of sexist. We don’t need to dictate dress in order to watch over these girls. We need to instill them with self-confidence, self-respect, and the ability to express themselves as they see fit.

Photo: Getty Images

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