When I was young, my mother always reminded me to wear a sweater to church. “Your shoulders should always be covered,” she said. It wasn’t hard to do because I grew up in Boston, so it was cold for ten months out of the year anyway.
When I was in 9th grade, my best friend made me sign up to play tennis with her. I had never participated in organized sports before. I had to get the right type of sneakers to wear for our practices and matches. My casual Keds wouldn’t cut it.
When I was in 12th grade, I got a job in retail. On one of my first few days, I wore regular jeans, which I thought were fine. But my boss said I had to wear the clothes that we sold in the store during my work hours, and she sent me home.
Recently I went horseback riding for the first time. I was told to wear proper shoes with closed toes and absolutely no flip flops or sandals.
In each of these instances, I complied. Surprisingly, I happen to like rules. I like order. I like things going the way they’re supposed to. Do I love being told what to do or how to dress? Not necessarily. But usually, there is a reason for the regulation.
Sometimes it’s simply about obeying parents, even if you don’t always agree. Often it’s about following the policies at a job (or school). Many times it’s for our own safety, like when playing sports.
There have been times when I’ve wanted to protest. Why shouldn’t I wear fishnets to the office? So what if it’s not appropriate? I’m an adult and that’s my style – shouldn’t I have freedom of expression? Well, sure, but I’m also risking getting fired.
Not everything is about personal expression. When you’re at school or at a job, you are representing that school or that business. You are part of a greater whole. You may not think ripped jeans or a nose ring or tattoos are a big deal, but guess what? It’s not all about you.
In the grand scheme of things, following a few simple rules should not be a make-or-break situation for anyone. You are not any less you with unripped clothing or fewer piercings. No one is trying to own you. No one is trying to change your inner being. But you are not in charge at school, and you will not be in charge at most of your jobs (unless you choose to be self-employed).
There are plenty of occasions to express yourself in whatever ways you wish, and there will be even more opportunities to express yourself in other ways. You can’t have purple hair? Life will go on! Get creative and find a different way to express your individuality. Because rules don’t make you, nor will they break you.
A dress code may feel oppressive, but it’s not. There are much bigger things in the world to worry about. Let’s put our first world problems aside and think less about what’s on our bodies and focus more on what’s in our hearts and minds. Let’s put the needs of others before our own desires. Let’s encourage each other. Let’s help the needy. Let’s remember that chapel and worship and classes and Serve Day are way more important than having to wear less makeup or a different pair of jeans to school.
There will always be time for fishnets later.
~ Silva@thefeather, Instagram @thefeatheronline and Facebook @thefeatheronline.
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