Nine-Year-Old Girl's Dress Code 'Violation' Is Straight-Up Body Shaming

dress code violation

Gone back-to-school shopping lately? Got a daughter? Then odds are pretty good that your Justice or JCPenney cart was piled high with leggings, long tunics, and tees. Comfortable, easy to pull on during a busy morning, and available in every color of the rainbow, these separates are the equivalent of the LBD for the 21st-century tween. Just don't expect to have your daughter wear her new back-to-school outfits someplace inappropriate ... like, for instance, school.


That's what the family of a girl in Brookhaven, Mississippi, learned last week in a story currently making the online rounds. Robbie Nettles, the girl's uncle and the family spokesperson, reported via Facebook that his niece was pulled out of her class for violating the school's dress code.

Was this a 17-year-old with a Harley Quinn crop top and microscopically tiny shorts? Nope. Nettles's niece is 9. Her offending outfit: long gray cotton pants and a hip-length Minnie Mouse T-shirt.

Apparently, the problem with the outfit was that it was close-fitting enough to show the outline of the girl's stomach, which happens to be a little curvier than that of the average Vogue supermodel.

"Does my niece's round belly OFFEND you?" Nettles wrote in his post, which has gotten more than 46,000 shares so far. "Apparently, it is acceptable to body-shame a 9-year-old .... It sickens me to imagine my sweet niece going to a school that cares more about her weight than what's in her mind."

To add insult to injury, Nettles told local newspaper the Daily Leader, his niece reportedly was made to wait for her mother in the detention room "with kids who [did] something wrong," rather than being allowed to stay in her classroom and continue learning. The girl's mother brought over a change of shirt -- a slightly longer, slightly looser tee -- but it, too, was deemed inappropriate, as were her legging-like pants.

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The school district's parent/teacher handbook has nearly two pages devoted to dress code rules. Some are based on common sense ("Cleanliness of both dress and body is mandatory"), and others help maintain order (no clothing that "identifies a student as a member of an organization that professes violence or hatred towards one's fellow man").

But the guidelines about tops are more vague. Certain types -- crop tops, fishnets, and tube tops -- are out, but other styles of shirts "should cover the abdomen, back, 'mid-drift' [um, that's 'midriff'], chest and cleavage at all times." They "should neither be overly baggy nor overly tight."

The handbook doesn't define what's meant by "overly." Are teachers expected to take a ruler and measure the distance between skin and fabric every morning?

So now this Mississippi family will have to do an inventory of their little girl's closet and decide whether each item occupies that tricky middle ground between skintight and muumuu. In the meantime, the 9-year-old is probably humiliated about the whole experience and wondering why her body is so dreadful that she can't get an education unless she disguises it.

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Regrettably, she's also getting her first lesson in the world of double standards. Moms don't worry when their fast-growing sons start getting too big for their sweatpants -- so what if their socks show a little? -- but they have to run to the mall the moment their daughters' shirts creep up above the waistline. Let's not even get started on the mixed messages girls get when their favorite celebs get attention and praise for their red-carpet gowns, but they themselves only get ridiculed with videos about "prom-propriateness" if they pick out a dress that reveals their back or stomach.

Kids are smart enough to know that adults' actions speak louder than words. It doesn't matter how many lessons schools teach about tolerance and self-acceptance if they make a practice of punishing children for wearing a modest shirt that outlines a tummy bulge.

This is also the kind of incident that can make a difference in a child's social standing. We can hope that this girl's classmates are sympathetic and supportive. Maybe they'll stage a protest by coming to school in similar "inappropriate" outfits. But what if they decide that it's more fun to tease the "fat" girl who got sent home for daring to wear something she liked?

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It's time for schools with dress codes to review their rules and determine which ones are truly practical, and which ones only serve to shame students for their body shape or perceived sexual attractiveness. School is stressful enough without having to worry that your clothes will land you in detention.

Ironically, the shirt that got Robbie Nettles's niece in trouble was a Minnie Mouse tee with the message "Love." She could have used some love from her school that day.


Image via Robbie Nettles / Facebook

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