Parents Call for Yoga Pants Ban To Be Lifted at Wisconsin Middle School

Parents are fighting for girls’ rights to wear stretchy pants to school — and the boys will have to deal with it. (Photo: Getty Images)
Parents are fighting for girls’ rights to wear stretchy pants to school — and the boys will have to deal with it. (Photo: Getty Images)

Yoga pants: It seems we can’t live with them or without them. Many women and girls practically live in leggings, even when they’re not doing yoga — and why not? They’re comfortable, stylish, and versatile. But yoga pants are fast becoming one of the most controversial articles of clothing of our time — especially among school officials, lawmakers, and at least one ornery old man.

One of the latest debates is taking place at Lance Middle School in Kenosha County, Wisconsin, where parents and even one board member are calling for officials to lift a ban that prohibits young girls from wearing the spandex pants to class, according to Kenosha News. Specifically, the district’s policy states that girls are not allowed to wear yoga pants and leggings as standalone bottoms, but they may wear them “beneath dresses, skirts, skorts, shorts, and tunics.”

One mother, Kate Trudell, whose 11-year-old son attends the school, claims the rule discriminates against young women. She declared this in front of the Unified School Board, according to Kenosha News, and received a round of applause from others in attendance.

Trudell shared part of her speech with Yahoo Style on Wednesday. It reads:

“While the yoga pants ban seems harmless, it is a micro aggression against a vulnerable demographic that propagates institutionalized slut-shaming that has dangerous long-term consequences. It lays the foundation for the idea that women must wear modest clothing to protect themselves from being raped or sexually assaulted instead of teaching men to respect women’s physical dignity.”

Trudell is particularly invested because, in addition to parenting a preteen boy, she is also the mother of two young girls. She tells Yahoo Style, “I have two young daughters, so part of this passion is practical and proactive. My No. 1 concern in dressing them is that everything they wear is as comfortable as it is cute. … A lot of times this involves stretchy spandex material. The idea that they would be prohibited from wearing yoga pants or leggings once they hit middle school seemed arbitrary and unfair at a time when I imagine they might start feeling sensitive about their growing bodies.”

She adds that she was at first hesitant to speak up about the issue, even as she was writing a speech to bring before the Unified School Board. But a conversation with a fellow mom gave her the perspective and incentive to persevere. Trudell had sent a draft of the speech to the woman, who promised to look at it later, saying she had the day off from work that day, Trudell told Yahoo Style. But immediately after that, the woman texted her again to clarify what she meant. She wrote, “Well, I’m a stay-at-home mom today so I am technically working, but I’m not teaching today. I have to be better about how I talk about working in the home.”

Trudell says this “sealed the deal” for her. “The way women are programmed to talk and feel about the things that we do, feel, and wear needs to change. We need to work to effect that change,” she told Yahoo Style. “I’m privileged with the ability to advocate for those who cannot, and I feel compelled to use that privilege to our collective advantage.”

But Trudell’s message resonated not only with parents. Unified School Board member Rebecca Stevens agreed, according to Kenosha News, and said she is committed to changing the dress code. “I have asked in the past that this policy come up for dress code, and I’ve been ignored. I will not be ignored anymore,” Stevens said, according to the publication, calling it “a very old policy” that “needs to be looked at again.”

Lance Middle School is not alone, of course. Plenty of academic institutions prohibit girls from wearing yoga pants, essentially shifting the responsibility to girls to avoid “tempting” their male peers. In October 2014, an assistant principal at Devils Lake High School in North Dakota prohibited leggings at school as “a way to prevent distracting teachers and other students,” according to a local Fox affiliate.

In an incredibly bold move, the assistant principal even had the female students watch clips from the movie Pretty Woman — in which Julia Roberts plays the role of a prostitute — and proceeded to compare the girls’ clothing to the main character’s, says the publication. Again, the assistant principal sent a clear message that it is a girl’s responsibility not to give men “impure” thoughts simply by wearing clothes that cling to her body. She explained that the rule was “not meant to objectify girls, but to stop boys from focusing on something other than class work.”

There were also incidents of controversial yoga pants bans at Tottenville High School in Staten Island, New York and Oakleaf High School in Clay County, Fla., where a 15-year-old was publicly shamed by the school for wearing a skirt that was deemed too short by a teacher.

In August 2015, district superintendent Robert Sanborn of Cape Cod Regional Technical High School in Massachusetts explained that the school’s ban on yoga pants was to “help prepare kids for the work force,” according to Huffington Post. Vocational technical education is about preparing people for a career,” he said in an interview. “It has to do with employability. We’re passing on the skills that are needed in the work force, to know that’s not proper attire when you’re at work.”

About 200 progressive-minded students at the high school weren’t buying it, though, and wore yoga pants on the first day of school in an act of solidarity to protest the school’s ban on the clothing, according to People. Instead of being offended, though, the school’s principal was “impressed,” says the publication. “They used their voices. They used their minds,” principal William Terranova told the publication. “They thought about it critically, and they united the student body. I’m superproud of them.” The policy was revised but still only allows yoga pants to be worn underneath dresses, skirts, or shorts.

Grown women are not immune to the stigma either. Some lawmakers can’t seem to wrap their minds around the idea that women should be allowed to wear leggings if they please. In February 2015, state Rep. David Moore of Montana introduced a bill that would count tight-fitting clothing, yoga pants included, as indecent exposure, according to Time. He added, “Yoga pants should be illegal in public anyway,” after a hearing on the matter.

And in October 2016, an entire community of women in Barrington, R.I., came together to organize their own kind of women’s march: a Yoga Pants Parade. Neighborhood resident Jamie Patrice organized the parade in reaction to a letter written by Barrington resident Alan Sorrentino and published in the Barrington Times. The letter read, in part: “Yoga pants can be adorable on children and young women who have the benefit of nature’s blessing of youth. However, on mature, adult women there is something bizarre and disturbing about the appearance they make in public. … To all yoga pant wearers, I struggle with my own physicality as I age. I don’t want to struggle with yours.” He even said yoga pants on adult women provide “an unforgiving perspective” that’s “inappropriate for general consumption.”

Patrice told Yahoo Style at the time, “I’ll be damned if some 63-year-old grumpy letter writer is going to tell me what I should wear.” The parade route was organized strategically so that the women would march past Sorrentino’s house, clad in their favorite pair of leggings. About 539 women gleefully paraded on Oct. 23, 2016, and even used the event to collect donations of new/unused hygiene and sanitary products to be brought to Sojourner House, a center for victims of domestic and sexual violence.

A writer for Salon discussed the dangerous logic of banning yoga pants, especially in schools, in an essay in 2014. She wrote: “Sexist dress codes don’t just sexualize girls. They tell boys it’s okay to be out of control. We are underestimating men by telling them they can’t control themselves. We are underestimating women by assuming they won’t recognize the injustice of perpetual slut-shaming. And we are underestimating the capacity of simple school dress codes to do damage to the students who must abide them.”

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