School Celebrates End Of The Year With A Body-Shaming Pool Party For Sixth-Graders

186926600In elementary and middle schools, the end of the school year tends to bring with it a long string of outdoor games, field trips, and parties, as teachers let kids rejoice over having made it through to June (and try to keep them from getting so much spring fever that they actually gnaw through their desks in frustration). But sometimes, these events end up celebrating more than just the end of the school year — as in the case of an Indiana elementary school whose end-of-the-year pool party also paid its dues to the fine art of body-shaming.

According to Yahoo! Parenting, Rhoades Elementary mother Jennifer Smith was shocked when she read through the permission slip for her sixth-grade son’s end of the year pool party. The event listed three rules: 1. Wear appropriate footwear; 2. no Speedos; and 3. every single sixth-grade girl was required to wear a non-white t-shirt over her swimsuit at all times.

Even though Smith has a son, she was righteously outraged on behalf of all her son’s female classmates, and took it up with school officials. The school’s argument was that forcing all the female students to cover up in a t-shirt would keep them from being ‘inappropriate’, and that it would prevent teasing. According to the school principal:

“Due to the varying sizes of students at this age, [making T-shirts mandatory] takes away the ability of kiddos making fun of others for wearing a shirt [since] everyone is required to wear one.”

First of all, I am troubled by the suggestion from someone who apparently works in an elementary school that no one will get made fun of for their t-shirt if everyone is also wearing one. (And when we say ‘everyone’ here, of course we mean ‘every one of the girls‘ — apparently boys getting teased for their bodies isn’t something that happens! who knew!) Secondly, your job is not to put every child inside a burlap sack so that you can pretend teasing will go away — it’s to deal with teasing at the source, not to try to insulate the victims from it. And finally, these are 11- or 12-year-old kids. If you find their swimsuits overly sexy, maybe you need to reevaluate the way you’re looking at prepubescent bodies.

The onus of preventing teasing is not something we should be leveling on the bodies of young girls. This message tells them their bodies are offensive, shameful, embarrassing. This message tells them it’s their fault if they get teased and didn’t dress the right way to prevent it from happening. What we should be telling them is: if someone teases you or shames you for how you look, tell a teacher and we will help you. How about this for a rule for the permission slip: “If you make fun of how another student is dressed or of how they look, you’ll spend the remainder of the pool party in the locker room writing an apology letter.”

Fortunately, Smith’s decision to push back on this gross rule succeeded, and the district revised their policy to say that t-shirts are optional for all students now. (Kids do still have to wear flip-flops.) I’m not sure how the school plans to handle it if and when teasing does happen during the pool party, but it’s good to know there are parents like Jennifer Smith who are ready to jump into the fray and cause a splash if needed.

(Image: Yobro10 / iStock / Getty)

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