What’s that about book covers and judges?

22 10 2011

I’ve seen quite a few people discuss the boy who was sent home from Toby Young’s free school for having hair that wasn’t within the prescribed limits of millimetres considered acceptable to the schools uniform policy.

I have real problems with this. It’s nothing to do with the ethnicity of the child concerned or the potential for culture clashes between black and white, which is a whole other issue, but it’s to do with conformity and societies expectations of people to just fit in.

I have never conformed to societal norms with regard to opinion or appearance and at times I have been made to suffer because of it. Why should I suffer because I look or dress differently? Why should people be taught that it’s acceptable to think less of someone who looks different? Why does 1mm of a haircut make the difference between acceptable and unacceptable?

What happened to the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”?

What are we teaching children, when someone is sent home from school because their hairstyle is unacceptable? It’s even more ridiculous because we’re not talking wild, unruly hair, we’re talking a short, clean, tidy and essentially smart crew cut.

We, as adults, are teaching children it’s unacceptable not to fit in with the crowd. Individuality is not to be embraced its to be punished.

As a child at high school, I realised I was very different to my peers, especially after the move from south to north. I moved to a town where conformity is everything. Neighbours would bankrupt themselves trying to keep up and outdo each other with their homes, cars, clothes, handbags and haircuts. 20 years later, they still do. Everyone in this town is a clone of everyone else and this was diametrically opposite to my experience down south where individuality had been celebrated if not embraced.

When I started school, I dressed in a way that suited me. It reflected my personality and was more indicative of where I came from than where I now stayed. It’s hard to put into words but easiest to say, difference up here was unacceptable, down there it was quirky and fun.

School uniform down south was particularly strict, no pleats in your skirt until 4th yr but up here it was less strict in that respect. You would think that meant individual expression would be more welcome. You’d be wrong. Individuality was embraced down south.

Girls could only wear trousers between October and March up here, and only certain materials and colours. I wore a pair of black denims. They looked smart. They were not allowed.

I was the ridiculously quiet child in school. Did my work on time. Passed my exams no bother. You’d think I was invisible… Until I was caught wearing these black denims one cold winter morning.

“what are those on your legs.”
I was tempted to reply hairs but didn’t want to lie.
“trousers”
“I can see that, what are they? What are they made from?”
Oh I’m not that stupid, quiet yes, but daft no.
“Answer me child, are those denims you are wearing?”
“No! They’re heavy cotton”
*stunned silence and walks off.*

From that point on, my non conformity was ignored by every teacher in my school. My hair went bright red on occasion, my nose was pierced, my “uniform” became more and more outrageous. I had no desire to fit in with these mindless drones I was forced to attend school with.

After I left school, I conformed even less. I got more piercings, more tattoos, my hair went through the rainbow of colours and everything from shaved, to so long it rested below my bottom.

I don’t believe in judging a book by its cover. If a child is forced to conform to within millimetres of a haircut, we’re getting ridiculous. I understand the importance of uniform but I also understand the importance of individualism and expressing yourself through your appearance. I don’t believe that is something only for the weekend.

I hate that my ability at being able to do a task or job is based on my appearance. I hate that society has become so superficial as to judge me on my appearance.

Obviously I know how to dress for an occasion. If I have an important meeting I wear appropriate attire. I’m not going to turn up in denim cut offs and flip flops if that isn’t acceptable but I’m not going to be told how my hair should be worn, or what length is acceptable. I’m not going to be told to wear pinstripes when I prefer polka dots.

And children have the whole of their adult lives to confirm to office attire… Why force it upon them as soon as they turn 5?

I love seeing kids personalising their uniforms. I love seeing personalities shine through in their expression of aesthetics. Surely having a uniform standard is enough. Surely turning up clean and not reeking of B.O. is enough. Why do we have to force our perception of what is acceptable in society onto others who perhaps have a different idea of acceptability.

I still have my own ‘style’ if you could call it that. I go through phases of having ridiculously loud hairstyles or ridiculously clumpity boots. They do not define me as a person but they allow me a degree of expression. My hairstyle is not me. At the moment it is as dull and twee as you could get so it certainly doesn’t reflect the cursing swearing rant monster I can be.

My clothes and my hairstyle don’t reflect my successes or failures in the world of work, or academia. To suggest that turning up to uni or work in a tshirt with a hole in it, or with split ends on my hair could affect my performance or suggest my membership to a proscribed group in proper white society, is ridiculous.

Get a grip people. This is 2011, it’s supposed to be the future when diversity is embraced. Let’s leave cloning to the sheep…

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