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Dress Codes: Time to Revisit? - Guest Post by Megan Lynch

29 Sep 2021 4:21 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

Let’s talk about dress codes.

Dress codes have been a massive subject in the press this year as more students advocate for their ability to express themselves. For example, a viral Tik Tok video from the beginning of September called out sexism in a school’s dress code. The three students (two women and one man) wore crop tops, but only two were written up. This student called out the double standard, and these sorts of recent protests have inspired some camps and campers to look again at camp dress codes and standards.

We say that everyone can come to camp and be their true selves, which means they can come here and live their truth without shame or hiding. Does your camp have a dress code policy or rules for what campers can/can’t wear? Do these dress codes and rules affect campers’ ability to be themselves? Let’s look at how our policies actually can support the values of our camp community.

In many schools, individuals who identify as women have more rules on how they dress than people who identify as men. Why might that be? Society has made us believe that women’s clothing can be distracting to men. Pushing further the “why?” question, we must look at how our culture has sexualized perceptions of women’s appearance and dress. Their shoulders could be distracting, so they can’t wear tank tops, but men can; women’s shorts could be leading the men on, but men can wear whatever they want. If a woman wears a bikini, is it okay for her body now to be objectified? 

As a mother of two daughters, I am already anxious about my girls having to experience what society has already put me through. Growing up, I remember looking at clothes saying to myself, “I could never wear that, as it will give the wrong impression”, and “Is this safe to wear?” What does that mean? When I stop and think about it, I create the same environment and feelings for my daughters. Why do our young girls have to feel like this? It is not their fault how their bodies look and how other people perceive them. 

Children’s clothes underscore the difference. Already in toddler clothes, “boy” shorts are mostly longer than “girl” shorts, and “girl” shirts are already cut for curves they won’t have for another decade. Marketers are already instilling these differences that girls will then be taught to be ashamed of.  I believe no one should be made to feel shame about their God-given body. It is already hard enough to find comfortable clothes that fit and that are “safe” to wear. 

I saw a post on social media that said, “Is that shirt see-through? It feels unfair to tell a girl that it is her responsibility to manage the male gaze. Let’s work to create cultures that actively oppose the objectification of women. I do not want anyone to feel their body objectified at camp or anywhere. 

As a Christian camp, how do we live by our beliefs and values regarding dress code? For me, that looks like teaching our campers to respect one another no matter what their gender is, who they are, what they believe, and that they have a right to be who they are. This includes dressing in what makes them feel most comfortable. Maybe that is wearing a one-piece swimsuit or a tee shirt to swim, or short shorts or jeans or leggings. Leaders need to be standing up and giving people space to be themselves no matter what is on the outside. 

Imagine this: A camper who identifies as male comes onto your waterfront in a speedo. Is there a policy that males cannot wear them? No? But is there a similar swimwear policy that only applies to girls? Gendered policies not only feel discriminatory, but may be yet another barrier to a nonbinary camper being able to fit in at camp.

Here at Aldersgate, our dress code has changed throughout the years. We used to say that shorts needed to be down near your knee, no tank tops, and one-piece bathing suits for women. Now we have a simple dress code. Here at Aldersgate, everyone dresses for the activity they are doing, and what you are wearing cannot have politics, violence, or swearing. 

We did not have any pushback from our families, campers, or staff because we actually didn’t put any limits on them. Many of them may feel more comfortable in short shorts or a tank top rather than shorts that go down to their knees. We ultimately leave it up to camper families. When I talk to parents who ask about our dress code policy, especially regarding swimwear, I am candid and say, “They should wear whatever they feel comfortable in.” They decide whether that’s a one-piece, a two-piece, or shorts and a shirt. It puts the ball in their court to make those decisions as a family.

Our dress code focuses on safety. If campers are playing sports, they need to be wearing close-toed shoes. We try to take a positive approach to unsafe dress. If a camper comes with flip flops on, we don’t yell at them and shame them. We ask if they have other shoes at camp with them. If they do, we encourage them to change. If they do not, we work out tasks they can do from the sideline that still includes them and follows the safety rules.

I want to teach all of our campers that we need to give everyone the space to wear what they want and feel comfortable. At our camp, we’re trying to build a Christian culture of mutual respect, equality, and belonging. May we grow to see one another with the eyes of Christ, who shows no partiality.

Is it time to revisit your camp’s dress code? 

Megan Lynch is the Program Director at Aldersgate Camp and Retreat Center in Rhode Island, where she first served as an International Counselor from Northern Ireland in 2010. Megan has worked in childcare settings for over 15 years. Megan has 2 daughters who are excited to be campers. Megan is a part of the Nerdfighter community which was founded by John and Hank Green and focuses on how to make the world a better place. Megan also enjoys a good cup of tea.

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