Is It a Dress Code or a Body Code?

On Tuesday, I told you about American Apparel instructing female employees on eyebrow grooming. Now, bellasugar is reporting on two cases where elementary school children are in trouble over their hair. A Milwaukee first-grade teacher cut off one of 7-year-old LMya Cammon’s braids when the little girl wouldn’t stop twirling them in class (video above). And 4-year-old Taylor Pugh has in-school suspension in Mesquite, TX because the school says his hair is too long for prekindergarten.

So, what I want to know (and haven’t seen any of the news coverage asking):

A) Would the Milwaukee school teacher think it’s okay to cut the hair of a twirling-prone white student?

B) Does Mesquite, Texas have the same hair length rule for all students, regardless of gender?

I’m guessing no on both.

As I’ve been telling my peeps about Beauty Schooled over the last few weeks, I’ve been noticing that the initial reaction of many folks is to laugh: Beauty school! So fun! Placenta in face cream, whaaat?! It helps that I happen to be hilarious and that a lot of what we talk about here is on the silly side (I know, sperm facials, I know). But part of why they’re laughing is because “those people who buy into that crap,” as in the women who splurge on $300 face creams or crave eyelash extensions or put their children in beauty pageants, seem somehow completely alien to us. They must be less intelligent or more insecure than all of us New York Times-reading, leg wax-eschewing enlightened types. And I’ll admit, I’ve marched in that parade myself a time or two.

But even with just six weeks down, this I know is true: Everyone but everyone buys into beauty standards, some way, somehow. If you own a lipstick, shave your legs, wear clothes, or tend to like people who do those things, you cannot consider yourself immune to the desires and messages of the Beauty Industrial Complex. And that’s not always a bad thing. We need to explore all the shades of gray here to figure out our own personal set of standards for what’s delightful or necessary and what crosses that line over to absurd or offensive.

But we also need to remember that no matter how examined our viewpoint, those standards of beauty bleed over into the way we perceive the world. And so, so quickly, they can turn into character judgments, into gender rules, into racism, into this world where a first-grade teacher grabs the scissors when she finds a black girl’s braids “distracting,” or a little boy needs a more masculine haircut to go to recess. What’s more, all of our preconceived notions and societal hang-ups about such issues help write the very beauty rules we’re dissecting here — the crazy ones that we can’t believe anyone really follows, and the not-so-crazy ones that just seem like good common sense. The differences between them aren’t always so stark.

So yes. This is about lip gloss, this is about popping zits, this is about saying, “Whaaat, sperm facials?!” Beauty is often best when we don’t take it too seriously. But when there are repercussions like these? I’m not laughing.

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8 Comments

Filed under beauty standards, For Extra Credit, Hair, week 7

8 responses to “Is It a Dress Code or a Body Code?

  1. Jenna

    Are you aware that the teacher’s identity in this case has not been released? We don’t know her race. While obviously a terribly inappropriate and disgraceful act on her part, you have no idea that it was a racist act. How do you know she wasn’t just a frustrated jerk? That’s pretty shoddy journalism.

  2. Jenna

    Also, rest assured that, as usual, plenty of the news coverage is shouting “racism,” though none of them know the teacher’s race either

  3. Dan

    @ Jenna, i’m not sure the race of the teacher really matters that much; the more important questions that’s raised here is: would a teacher (of any race) have cut a white child’s hair? That is, I bet lots of white kids in that school have braids, and possibly even twirl them: how come their braids weren’t cut?

    Racism works in many subtle ways, and i find it easier to believe than not that this is one of it’s manifestations.

  4. Dan

    Also, Jenna, you mention “as usual” media is suggesting racism…you’re not one of those people that think racism is over with, are you?

  5. Chandler

    Racism or no, I think the underlying factor in both these situations — and really, across the board with dress codes –is conformity. I find the idea that someone’s appearance is “distracting,” just because it’s different, appalling for a lot of reasons, not the least of which being that it implies people can only work together productively if they’re all the same. As someone who was subjected to dress codes at (private, Christian) schools until college, I think these kind of rules can help create a culture that stifles individuality and tolerance of difference. And, regardless of what any one particular teacher’s motivations might be, that’s not good for any of our kids.

  6. Yes it is no joke! This is a horrifying story, and you are so right that we could all benefit by examining the subtle ways in which we all buy into the Beauty Myth. Let’s face it, we live in a sick culture. We are relentlessly bombarded with false images of airbrushed models and messages that we are not good enough the way we are — in order to keep us buying stuff we don’t need. (How else can capitalism survive?) As a particularly insidious example, check out the Ralph Lauren ads featuring inhumanly skinny models http://americathebeautifuldoc.com/2009/12/01/open-letter-to-ralph-lauren/. I also highly recommend Daryl Roberts’ movie America the Beautiful, an unforgettable story about the consequences of America’s obsession with false beauty.

  7. Lyndsay

    Wow, seeing that girl interviewed makes the incident seem more real. Seriously, a teacher can’t deal with a seven year old girl innocently playing with braids? Hasn’t she had to deal with children who intentionally cause trouble? So sad. How can you trust teachers after that?

  8. Pingback: It’s time for a new beauty backlash. « Beauty Schooled

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