(This piece developed while I was writing my “Into the World of Japan’s School Girl Culture” and how I was able to relate to the whole objectifying young girls in their uniform issue to my own experience of wearing a school uniform.)
Wearing a school uniform is part of the whole education process. And in many countries, including United Kingdom, South Africa and various countries in Asia, it is a must to wear approved uniforms that fit the school’s dress code policy. I have worn school uniforms from kindergarten, primary school and high school. In primary school, I was often picked out for having various hairstyles. As a young girl, my relatives loved to style my hair into different ways particularly because it was long. Braids, pigtails and such, I always had so many accessories in my hair. And my teachers always give me various warnings because of it. I remembered I was lining up for assembly when the discipline mistress pulled me out and pointed her fingers at me and said “You cannot have this hairstyle.” And I cried. It was silly but I was a young girl and I was embarrassed being scolded in was in front of the school. After that incident, I only had my hair in my ponytail.
And then in high school, it became worst. My summer uniform is a pure white dress, which is really disastrous for any girl especially if we are on our period. I went to a school that was founded by Catholic nuns that is why they were strict with the uniform policies. But it was ironic since more than half of the school’s population aren’t even Catholics (most of the students are from South Asian backgrounds). For us girls, the length of the dress should touch our knees but there are also ridiculous rules like our ribbons should be tied, the color of our hair ties are only limited to black, white or gray, our school bags are bags provided by the school and the stupidest one of all, our socks should be higher than our ankles.
I don’t see the point in all that. I came to school to learn. Why does my uniform, my hair tie or even the length of my socks matter? Why do I have to wear long socks when the summer heat is killing me? How does not wearing white shoes during physical education interfere with my learning or the way I do sports? But perhaps, my classmates who have to wear head scarves and religious accessories have it worst because they actually have to ask permission from the school and then get an approval to wear them. To add more salt to the wound, girls have to wear undergarments (white specifically) and in summer, this could get really annoying. The heat is too much but we have to wear extra layers inside to hide our bras, or some of us have to wear wool vests (part of the uniform approved by the school) so that we don’t have to suffer from the whole white dress annoyance.
Every morning, when we enter school, we have to pass by prefects who looks us up and down to check if our uniform and overall appearance is acceptable. If not, we get a blue form. If we get three blue forms, we get a punishment. Sometimes, we would have random uniform checking too, where teachers would come and disturb (it wastes class time) us during a class. I remember one time when a friend had a band-aid on her right arm and the teacher asked her to take it off to see if there was really a wound or not. I didn’t know that wearing a band-aid would be indecent.
But my worst experience of all was when I had just graduated. I had to come back to school to work on the school yearbook where I had to stay in the computer room most of the time. Since I wasn’t technically a student anymore, I didn’t have to wear the uniform so I just wore casual clothes. This was during the summer so I wore shorts and a t-shirt. By then, the teachers told us that we weren’t allowed to wear shorts to school because it was indecent. It says a lot about the whole “what you wear says about you” and points fingers at what women choose to wear as their fault if anything bad should happen to them.
If we wear too little, we are indecent, if we wear too much, we are phonies. And in a school that should be respectful of our choices, we are being shamed because wearing shorts where legs (a part of your body, by the way) is too much to bear. It’s a high school where students should have self-control and should be old enough to think and act maturely. If they can’t control themselves after seeing legs or skin, why is it on me? Instead of educating me on what I should wear, maybe you could help yourself or those who would find it indecent on self-control and changing the way they think.
They try so hard to promote their students as innocents; hence, the whole white dress in summer because purity and a long gray dress in winter because we actually look like nuns (my class teacher told me this) that they reduce us to what we choose to wear. It’s this whole cycling of reducing us to what we wear based on *their* standards that’s becoming such a sickening tumor of this society. In the Philippines, a certain catholic university has heavy uniform policies. A friend of mine was stopped from entering the school because she wasn’t wearing pants but leggings. My little brother (who is in primary school) was asked to cut his hair because it reached his forehead which doesn’t have any relation when it comes to studying. Of course, there are also similar incidents in other parts of the world when t comes to uniform or what we wear to school.
Now that I’m in university and there is no uniform policy whatsoever, there is more acceptance on what we wear. I see students wearing what they’d wear to sleep to school (like jogging pants and such since they live in the residence which is always just next to the school) and no one bats an eye because that’s how it should be.
School uniforms are becoming a problem. In Japan, it has certainly became a culture with a sexualized connotation. Instead of promoting school identity, it becomes a form of shaming for those who wear it “wrongly.” From a mere uniform that transcends to bigger issues, it’s really just ridiculous. And in fact, we are tired of it.