Can banning skinny jeans curb bullying?

A North Carolina school district is considering a ban on skinny jeans and leggings to stop appearance-based bullying. Will that work?

Mike Segar/ Reuters
Jeans are seen for sale in an American Eagle Outfitters retail store in Manhattan, New York, U.S. in May 2016. A North Carolina school district is considering a ban on skinny jeans and leggings to stop appearance-based bullying.

Skinny jeans may be forbidden in one North Carolina school district, where a newly proposed dress code that bans leggings, skinny jeans, and "any other excessively tight fitting pants" has outraged many students and parents.

New Hanover County School System in North Carolina's Wilmington area proposed the new rule after some heavier girls were bullied on account of wearing tight jeans. The rule does, however, allow students to wear skinny jeans if a shirt or dress covers "the posterior in its entirety."

While some oppose the proposed ban on account of cost or fashion, others warn that changing a bullying teen's character takes more than changing school clothing.  

Earlier this month, the school district invited students to voice their opinions about the new rule on social media. "What am I supposed to wear to school??? Curtains???" one student tweeted. "Go to the mall and find 10 pairs of jeans that fit what you're looking for? I bet you can't," wrote another.

The reality, they say, is that most jeans available today for women and teenage girls adhere to the skinny jean trend. Leggings and tight-fitting jeans are easier to come by, and sometimes the only kind of pants available, at stores most popular among young women.

And not only is it difficult to find pants that fit more loosely, but doing so may also be a financial burden for some families. Many parents asked if the school board would purchase new pants for the students, since they are proposing to eliminate a staple in their wardrobes.

"If you want me to follow the dress code, the you have to replace all my skinny jeans and leggings. My family can't afford to," one student tweeted.

Moreover, the new rule does not guarantee that those students who were bullied will suddenly be immune.

"How about addressing fatphobia, bullying, and unnecessary oversexualization of girls w/o restricting their personal attire," another student tweeted. A different student pointed out that for some body frames, everything might fit tightly, whether the jeans are "skinny" or not: "I'm sorry. Everything fits tight. I have thighs. Sorry. Oh no. SO WHAT. MY SCHOOL IS FALLING APART. FIX THAT."

Parents also objected to the new rule. "From my perspective, telling people that they can't wear something because they are being bullied takes away the choice from them," Chris Furner, whose child is in first grade at Parsley Elementary School, told the Star News in Wilmington, N.C.. "They could have the choice to change their clothes if that is the case."

Lisa Estep, a school board member, posted a extended comment about the policy on Facebook. As a 6'1" woman who describes herself as a "bigger girl," Ms. Estep grew up being teased and bullied. "Guess what? You can't legislate kindness. But you can teach it," she wrote. "You can't legislate compassion. But you can live it. As a system, we should, as best we can, foster an environment where all students feel included and valued," she wrote.

Still, she added, bullying can never be completely solved: students bring emotional baggage beyond the school's ability to fix, which manifests itself in behavioral issues. "So we should enforce the current no tolerance policy on bullying," she continued, "But I, as a School Board member, should not try to equate dress code restrictions with helping to combat bullying." Epstein said she would hope that if enforced, that the rules be applied to both boys and girls.

In response to the criticism over the new dress code, Jeannette Nichols, vice chairwoman of the school board, said the proposal would return to the policy committee for more discussion. 

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