Being Dress-Coded

Slut-shaming. The phenomenon of girls and women being policed, judged, and denigrated because of their actual or presumed sexuality.

Dress-coded. The experience of a student in middle or high school being reprimanded or punished because she is wearing clothing in violation of her school’s dress code policy. Most often, girls are dress-coded for wearing clothing considered too revealing or sexualized.

I’ve been tracking and writing about slut-shaming for over 20 years. Recently, I began exploring the ways in which school dress codes often play a role in perpetuating slut-shaming. School administrators typically defend dress codes by arguing that “revealing” outfits are distracting to other students. Ironically, these codes result in the opposite consequence: Girls’ bodies become the center of attention because monitoring students’ clothes means paying close attention to their bodies and, by extension, their sexuality. Girls are simultaneously sexualized and punished for being sexualized.

I recently launched the Instagram project to create a space to collect individual stories and, more importantly, look for patterns and learn from a larger, collective story about sexism and sexual objectification. I’m also interested in the way racial discrimination operates with dress coding. Girls of color are more frequently dress-coded than white girls because school officials tend to monitor and scrutinize their bodies more.

I also use the term “dress-coded” in a broad sense to include the experiences in which someone of any age or gender is called out by their peers, colleagues, or strangers for wearing clothing judged “too” revealing or sexualized. Nearly all women have been dress-coded at some point. But regardless of whether or not an individual has personally experienced dress-coding, the fact that we all know we could be dress-coded influences the way girls and women behave, think, and feel regarding our bodies and sexuality.

Message or email me ([email protected]) if you want to participate. Some people choose to share a selfie wearing an outfit that got them dress-coded in school or another space or called out by someone who said they were dressed in an inappropriately sexualized manner. Others have chosen to submit a photo of an outfit they are afraid to wear in public because they are anxious about being dress-coded or called out. And others want simply to share a story about a time they were dress-coded. No matter how you choose to participate, I will work with you to create a post on @BeingDressCoded you are proud of. You do not need to include your name or any identifying information if you prefer to remain anonymous. Participating in this project is a way to contribute to an urgent conversation and to educate others about the harms of being dress-coded and slut-shamed.