For many of us, our teenage years are a time when our anxieties about the way we look are at their peak. Perhaps you worried about the shape of your nose, the clearness of your skin, or the fact that your thighs weren’t entirely cellulite-free. Maybe you thought your hair was too frizzy, your boobs were too small, or your eyes were too close together. Whatever the source of your insecurity, it’s safe to say that you would have felt much worse if one of your teachers pointed it out – right?
Spare a thought, then, for students at a high school in South Carolina, who were recently told by their headteacher that they shouldn’t wear leggings if they were above a certain clothes size.
Heather Taylor, principal at Stratford High School in Goose Creek, was recorded while delivering an assembly to 10th grade teenagers (the equivalent of Year 11 in the UK).
In the recording, obtained by local news station WCBD News 2, Taylor is heard discouraging female students from wearing leggings to school.
“I’ve told you this before, I’m going to tell you this now,” she says. “Unless you’re a size zero or a two and you wear something like that, even though you’re not fat, you look fat.”
For reference, a size zero is a UK size four, while a size two is the equivalent of a UK size six. So, yeah. Taylor was telling her 15- and 16-year-old girls that if they were a size eight or above, they’d look fat in leggings – a statement which, beyond being hurtful and damaging, is also just patently inaccurate.
It’s important to note that Taylor was not introducing an official policy that discriminated specifically against girls of a certain size. Stratford High’s dress code states that “leggings, tights, yoga pants and spandex must be worn under clothing that covers to mid-thigh”, and there are no plans to update this rule to include references to body shape or size.
However, the principal does appear to have been trying to tap into body insecurities as a way of encouraging girls to stick to the school dress code. And unsurprisingly, many students and parents at the school were upset by her comments.
“I’m not a size zero and I felt kind of targeted because of my size,” said Allison Veazey, a sophomore at Stratford High. “It was really hurtful because I felt like my size made me look, you know, disgusting towards someone in the clothes that I wear.”
Stratford residents also responded to Taylor’s remarks on a community Facebook page. “As if it isn’t hard enough to be a teenager,” wrote Hannah Garcia. “That’s an adult-sized bully if I have ever seen one.”
“As a teen – and an adult – who struggled with anorexia, this isn’t true and this isn’t OK,” said Ashley Fischer. “You’re beautiful and you’re worthy, as a [size] 0 and a 2 and a 20.”
Watch: Young feminists discuss the politics of Pretty Woman
In a statement to students and parents, since republished by Huffington Post, Taylor apologised for her comments.
“My intention was not to hurt or offend any of my students in any way,” she wrote.
She said that she had spoken to students who said they were concerned by what she had said. “I assured them all that I am one of their biggest fans and invested in their success,” she said. “After speaking with our students and receiving their support, I am confident that, together, we are ready to move forward and have a wonderful year.
“Stratford High is a very caring community, and I want to thank all of our parents and students who have offered their support to me and provided me with an opportunity to directly address their concern.”