School requires sixth-grade girls to cover up with T-shirts for pool party

May 21, 2015 at 6:00 p.m. ET
Image: Getty Images/Royalty Free /

Students at Rhoades Elementary in Indianapolis are learning a whole new lesson at an early age: body shaming.

Rhoades Elementary school holds an annual end-of-the-year pool party for sixth-grade students who have displayed good citizenship. And, like most schools, it set up a dress code for the party that includes the banning of Speedos, the request to wear flip-flops and the requirement that all girls must wear a non-white T-shirt over their bathing suits. The T-shirt rule did not sit well with one mother, and she decided to do something about it.

Jennifer Smith, whose son is in the sixth grade, contacted the school to voice her concerns over the dress code. "Being a feminist and seeing things through that filter, I was just kind of enraged by that," Smith told The Huffington Post. "They're saying little girls need to be ashamed of their bodies and cover themselves up."

The school responded that this was its way of preventing inappropriate swimwear, which had been an issue in the past. It also tried to spin it as an economic concern, noting that some parents might not have the funds to buy their daughters one-piece bathing suits. However, Smith continued to press, claiming that this whole thing was really about targeting the girls and their bodies.

The T-shirt rule comes down to the fact that only one half of the grade is being targeted. What message does it send that girls' bodies need to be covered up, but there is nothing wrong with boys' bodies? Body shaming and judgment is a very real thing, and many girls are starting to develop eating disorders and body image issues at younger ages. This school and its T-shirt rule is only adding to that. Forcing girls to wear a T-shirt over their bathing suits sends the message that there is something wrong with their bodies and starts the shame cycle that girls and women can so easily get trapped in when it comes to their appearance.

Perhaps it would be different if both boys and girls were required to wear T-shirts, but that isn't the case. And beyond the stigma and shame issues at play, has anyone stopped to think about how dangerous the T-shirts could be? Maybe it's the former lifeguard in me, but wearing large T-shirts in a pool can make for complicated and potentially hazardous swimming.

In the case of Rhoades Elementary, the mandatory T-shirt became optional after Smith took her complaint all the way to the school's superintendent. And according to her son, who attended the pool party this past Monday, no girls ended up wearing a T-shirt.

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