Recently, the Boise State Rec Center changed its dress code, relaxing previous policies. Now, the Rec only requires that visitors must wear a “top and bottom.”
When I initially heard about this change, I was glad it had been made. Dress codes have historically been sexist, targeting women by limiting tank tops and leggings. I do not believe that anyone should be told what they can or cannot wear, especially when it comes to protecting the feelings of men.
However, recently The Arbiter received a direct message on Instagram from a student citing their negative feelings towards the Rec’s dress code.
The direct message said, “I have a concern with the recent dress code change at the Rec. Apparently now you are only required to wear a ‘top and bottom.’ Many of the people I know who use the Rec frequently are very uncomfortable with girls being allowed to wear a sports bra and leggings around the facility. For my best friend, who has had a really hard time with body image issues, it is very frustrating and has made her not want to use the Rec.”
When I read this, it caused me to pause and think about the dress code once again. The change was made to remove restrictions on gendered clothing based on a person’s sex, so that no one is discriminated against as they visit the Rec.
However, body image and insecurities are both very common and possibly devastating issues that I myself have struggled with. It is absolutely important to understand both sides of the issue, especially when it comes to rights of expression and body image.
It is upsetting to see that people have been negatively affected by a policy change that I initially found to be very empowering. But, it has caused me to take the time to analyze the pros and cons of the new Rec dress code with a perspective I naively did not consider before.
As I have already mentioned, dress codes have been a point of contention between many facilities, such as gyms and schools, and the people who have called out these institutions for harboring sexist policies. The Rec changing their policy to allow women — and all visitors — to wear whatever they please is a step in the right direction on the side of women’s rights.
When gyms institute a dress code stating that midriffs, shoulders or cleavage must be covered, it sends a message to their visitors that their comfort matters less than those who might be distracted, or simply not like what they are wearing. Taking away that policy empowers women to be able to wear whatever they feel comfortable in while exercising.
It is also worth mentioning that people get hot while exercising. When I have the option to wear just a sports bra and shorts, I move better and feel better with less fabric covering my skin. The more you sweat, the more your clothes stick to your skin, which can be generally uncomfortable. There is also the possibility of overheating, which can be dangerous.
Of course, the biggest downside to the new dress code is what was recently brought to my attention by the aforementioned message. People who struggle with body image tend to compare themselves to others, whether on Instagram or in person. While one is exercising in a public space, I believe this issue can be magnified.
Negative body image can arise from unrealistic imagery in the media, depicting people as physically fit in ways that are either unrealistic or altered. This can cause an individual to begin to compare themselves to these images, and possibly people in real life as well.
People can begin to fixate on their weight, leading to an unhealthy obsession with losing weight. The effects of body image issues can negatively affect one’s mental health. Eating disorders and depression are more common in those who struggle with these issues.
Though the validity of body image issues should never be questioned, it is important to understand what dress codes have done. Dress codes have largely been used to target women and dictate what they can wear, and the Rec has taken steps to move away from those policies.