In another installment of institutionalized sexism, Nicola Thorp was asked to wear heels for her temporary receptionist position, according to The Telegraph. Interestingly, deciding what was best for her, she decided to wear flats. Her employers, deciding what was best for them, asked her to leave.
Obviously, this is clearly discrimination and sexism at its worst, because not all women feel their best or even comfortable in heels. Like so many of these unreasonable dress code violations, they are perpetuating unrealistic beauty standards and body shamming.
An often overlooked reality of the foundation of sexism, is image, or beauty standards. Outrageous dress codes like this may appear to be harmless, but they actually force women to go for someone’s made-up ideal of what a women should look like. Unfortunately, pointing out dress code violators turns into schools and companies body shaming their students and employees.
This past week, a middle school located in Woodstock, Vermont has gotten in a bit of trouble for making the uninformed decision of having an all girls assembly discussing the school’s dress code. The implication was that only girls could violate the dress code. Again, dress codes are rooted in unrealistic beauty standards, the older sister to body shaming. At a town hall meeting that was held to rectify the school’s misstep, young girls asked if the dress code could be more flexible and if the rules could be enforced in a less humiliating way. The young girls were visually-inspected, pulled out of class and sent to the office, where their skirts and shorts were measured.
These dress codes pulse in the same vain as magazines telling readers what bikini works the best for their body. Sorry I’m not sorry, I should have the freedom to express myself however I want.
The other problem with dress codes is that they can be prejudiced when women are told to change their hair, of course in a way that is comfortable with the employer. Many of these women are body shamed when they are asked to physically change appearance of their hair, or they are fired.
No one should ask another person to change their natural state of being, to accommodate arbitrary rules that are informed by arbitrary cultural beauty standards. As we work toward body acceptance, we have to remember that these unrealistic dress codes perpetuate body shaming as much as exclusive fashion lines and campaigns. Forcing women to conform to make employers happy may be more harmful to body positvity, than the images of unrealistic beauty standards we see every day. They’re harmful because this shaming is supposedly happening in safe places like schools, and places of opportunity like an office These are places that are incredibly intimate and in-person, not behind a screen, or piece of paper.