I had so many, many interesting responses from friends and family to the question I posed on Tuesday, about "dressing for acceptance" at school. When I posted the link to the piece on my Facebook page, I had a dozen or so responses by mid-morning, and a very interesting and thought-provoking conversation unfolded, one that gave me much to think about. Many of my friends pointed out in their comments that learning to dress in socially acceptable ways, ways that prevent "negative visibility" is a life-long skill, if you will, that all children need to learn, if only to help pave the way as they move through the school years and beyond.
One friend, who homeschools her children, pointed out that her daughter doesn't care about what's "in style" or not but, rather settles for what feels comfortable, preferring simple designs over the trendy, flashier ones. She wonders how her daughter would dress for a public school setting, and if she would feel pressured or influenced by the kids around her. This, of course, brings me back to my gut objection to the idea of dressing for acceptance in the school setting: I still believe the idea of it goes against a child's still-developing sense of individual style and taste--I'm not talking about helping to make sure a child wears clean and presentable clothes, but helping that child pick out shirts adorned with images of pop culture, or buying them the latest and expensive sneakers and jeans, all in the name of acceptance.
A few friends mentioned school uniforms, and how these provide a certain peace of mind, when it comes to clothes and school. Our children will grow up into adults who, when out in the working world, will have to learn to wear a "uniform" of sorts depending on their profession, and where they are in the scheme of things, relative to their own co-workers. But while school uniforms and strict dress codes force a certain amount of uniformity on children, there is still room for creative interpretations of dress code rules, and still room for teasing that targets clothing and styles. I went to a private middle school which required school uniforms, yet I remember that students were still able to personalize their uniforms in ways that made them stand out: the popular girls, for instance, wore too-short skirts and ankle socks, as opposed to those of us on the less-popular side of the fence with the knee-length skirts and longer socks.
The reality in the end, I think, is that some kids will always stand out more than others, and some kids will always be targeted for teasing--maybe because of the way they dress, maybe because of their mannerisms, or their sensitive and shy ways, or how tall or small they are, or because of the color of their skin, or their hair, or the way they walk or run--someone out there will always find something to tease about, regardless of how many Nike swooshes or Hannah Montanas are on their shoes or shirts. Most kids are able to bear some teasing, they absorb it, they use to grow stronger, and, even if wounded temporarily by it, they are able to put it behind them as they move through school. But no child should have to suffer through it, and teasing and bullying should not be considered a rite of passage that any child should have to endure.
We talked with L. about the clothing issue and he told us that the number one priority for him is to be comfortable at school. I couldn't agree more: he deals with so much stress at school as it is, that the last thing we want is for him to add more to the list. Now, with the new "lunch bunch" system being added for his return to school next week, he'll have two days out of the week when he won't be eating in the cafeteria, and it seemed a good opportunity to get him to think about adding to his wardrobe.
Yesterday, at our local evil mega store, I took L. past the clothing section.
"Do you want to look for anything?" I asked, casually.
He did. We bought two new pairs of shorts--the type usually reserved only for "home clothes" days--and two new shirts: "For lunch bunch days" he said, and he seemed happy, unburdened a little at the thought of this release from his rigid clothing rules. I wish he could feel on his own that it's okay to wear what he wants on whatever days he wants, but until we get there, slowly and painfully, we'll keep making those tiny, tentative steps in that direction.
With or without the swooshes.