If you attended high school in the United States, chances are you’re familiar with dress codes. These guidelines often disproportionately affect girls: no tank tops, short skirts, little shorts, leggings or ripped jeans.
When you graduated, you might’ve thought your dress code days were over. But as one unlucky woman realized, that’s unfortunately not always the case.
Dress Codes At The… Mechanic?
As it turns out, people are eager to police what women are wearing long after their high school days. TikTok user Tia Wood recently confronted this reality while at a mechanic shop.
While waiting for her car, an unnamed female associate asked Wood to stand outside, away from the designated seating area. The shop associate told Wood it was because Wood’s shirt was “too inappropriate.”
“Didn’t know getting ur car inspected had a dress code,” Wood wrote in her TikTok video while wearing the “scandalous” outfit in question: a twist-front crop top, denim shorts and sneakers.
‘That’s A Fancy Bra At Best’
In true internet fashion, the response to Wood’s video was swift and starkly divided. Some commenters jumped on Wood’s side by sarcastically saying, “Didn’t you know the dress code is usually black tie for formal events, such as getting your car inspected?”
There were also less-than-supportive comments on her original post such as, “Maybe have respect for yourself and not wear sh!t like that in public, and that wouldn’t have happened,” a comment read.
“That’s not even a shirt. That’s a fancy bra at best,” someone else wrote. Excuse me while I, Wood and women everywhere roll our eyes into the back of our heads.
“As long as I’m not putting on a hard hat and clocking in, I can wear whatever the f*** I fancy,” Wood retorts. “I could wear a bra, a clown suit, a bikini, a wedding dress, pasties doesn’t matter.”
“What I’m not going to do is pull out my f***ing tape measure and the dictionary of textiles,” she continued. “If you are not satisfied with the description of my outfit, I encourage you to respectfully seek counsel and kiss my a**.”
Wood clapped back hard at strangers sexualizing and shaming her body, and I am here for it. But I also can’t shake the more insidious issue at the root of Wood’s viral video.
Simultaneously Shaming And Sexualizing
I wish this was a one-off incident. But as any woman can attest, this happens far more often than it should. Even worse, it starts at a young age.
A 2016 U.K. study interviewed 300 girls between six and nine years old. The researchers assessed the girls’ exposure to sexualized media and the internalization of sexualized messages. The study found that girls exposed to early sexualization were more likely to internalize these messages and have lower self-esteem.
And this sexualization discussed isn’t always sexual abuse, though according to RAINN, one in nine girls under the age of eighteen will experience abuse or assault at the hands of an adult. Rather, this sexualization is often far less obvious. It’s in the music girls listen to, on social media and even in their toys.
Young girls grow up sexualized. Then, their school administrations ask them to follow strict, gendered dress codes. Bare shoulders, shorts, skirts higher than knee-length and leggings, countless administrations have explained, are a distraction in class. The Responsible Sex Ed Institute explains that these distractions are usually sexual, which is the problem.
“These rules punish the person who is being perceived as sexual, rather than engaging in conversations with the person who is ‘being distracted’ about respect and bodily autonomy,” the institute’s website reads.
Consent Doesn’t Look Like A Crop Top
In Wood’s case, the associate made it Wood’s responsibility not to be sexualized at the mechanic. Wood had to stand outside. Every other paying customer got to sit in the shop’s designated waiting area.
But Wood didn’t consent to any wandering eyes from other customers, associates or mechanics. Nor did she consent to getting creeped out or made to feel uncomfortable, as one TikTok commenter tried to suggest.
“Y’all are comfortable wearing tops like that around strange men?” the user asked Wood.
“No,” she replied, “But I’m also not comfortable wearing gym clothes, hoodies and sweatpants. I’m not comfortable at all ever around strange men. You really think a creep gives a f*** what you’re wearing?”
What Wood’s Experience Means
Wood posted a follow-up video of her calling the service station to discuss the incident. Almost half-jokingly, she asks the associate on the phone if the shop has a customer dress code.
A confused voice answers, “Mo, ma’am, we do not have a dress code. We just require you to wear your face covering.” She then asks Wood for more details, explaining that she had never heard of something like this happening at their business.
The woman apologized to Wood and said they would address the incident accordingly. At this time, we don’t know if anything ever came of the phone call.
Reply to @tiawould? original sound – Tia Wood
On the one hand, it’s great that the shop gave Wood a well-deserved apology. On the other, her experience shows that we have a long way to go in our journey to women’s rights.
We’ve all been in Wood’s shoes before, and remember, it was never our fault.