Experiences at school can lead to deep-seated insecurities about our appearancebekassine...

It can be difficult, even at the best of times, to ignore one’s predispositions against one’s appearance, especially if these originate from childhood. For the seven years that I trudged into school I could not fail to glance, and then promptly recoil, at the distorted reflection glaring back at me in the unreasonably large reception doors.

Of course, I cannot blame my school for demanding such monstrosities of glass to be installed, and I pity, rather than blame, the boys in Year Eight and Year Nine who told me I was ‘the ugliest girl in the year.’ But the fact remains that many of us struggle with a deep-seated dislike of our appearance originating from our school days, and yet no one does enough to prevent it.

There is a widespread attitude in schools today that one’s appearance has nothing to do with one’s work and, as such, there is little need to plaster one’s face in makeup, ensure one’s hair is immaculate, or take hours to style one’s clothes in order to attain the highest level of the ‘on fleek’ scale as possible. Although schools claim a focus on appearance equates to a lack of focus on studies, it is essential that we all consider the complexity of individuals’ relationships with their looks, instead of simply rejecting any emphasis on appearance as an irrelevant luxury.

This is particularly the case concerning the formative years of our lives we spend in school, as our interactions with the concept of appearance during this period makes all the difference for our future. And while this can apply to both sexes, it is important to acknowledge that most examples of bullying based on appearance occur to girls, rather than boys.

“The Sixth Form uniform for girls was blue and silver, whilst for boys was black and gold. I am sure this was not a deliberate suggestion of female subordination – but the implication is clear”

The sad fact is that schools may even bolster this through sexist school uniform policies. While it may be accidental, the underlying presentation of frequent female fault cannot be ignored. Schools often impose precise rules on the length of girls’ skirts, reinforced through multiple diagrams online and threats of detention to any girl who is a few centimetres short – yet there is no such rule concerning the length of boys’ trousers. Girls are also regularly forbidden to wear nail polish, jewellery, and other accessories, but boys can smother their hair in an abundance of gel, and nobody will say a word. Sometimes, even particularities of uniform have the same message: in the case of my school, the Sixth Form uniform for girls was blue and silver, whilst for boys it was black and gold. I am sure this was not a deliberate suggestion of female subordination – but the implication is clear.

Things get even worse when we move from clothing to other aspects of appearance: schools sometimes go as far as to ban makeup for students under certain ages, as if forcing young women to face their faces as they are will only have positive repercussions. But they fail to understand that there is an empowering, rather than ignoble, quality to makeup: a confidence and control, rather than indolence and vanity, that arises from the ability to change one’s looks without the requirement of surgery.

And sure, in an ideal world, it would be so much better if we could all embrace our natural appearances and spurn anything other than naked beauty – but the fact is that we are not in this ideal world. We are instead living in an incredibly unstable environment when it comes down to looks. Thus, if people want to wear makeup to feel more at ease, or to cultivate positivity about themselves, or simply because they just like it, they should be allowed to. It is nobody else’s right but your own to decree what you look like. Remove this right, and you open up a Pandora’s box of possibility for ceaseless swarms of others to pronounce opinions on an individual’s looks too, and this can quickly, and easily, fuel permanent attitudes of self-deprecation.

I know it can be difficult for schools to get things right, especially with regards to such a contentious matter, but the current attitude of a blatant disregard for the pervasive pressure to be perfect needs to change. The school environment is a hotbed of unrest concerning the development of the individual. One’s time in education is marked by existential crisis after existential crisis, coupled with conflicts with one’s own attitude and with others, and this is only exacerbated by the complexity of the subject of one’s appearance. Indeed, I am still deeply unsettled about my looks – an opinion stemming solely from my school days – and I know it is not just me who suffers from this.

Contrary to popular belief, focusing on the topic of appearance and the way we look is not a narcissistic task, nor is it trivial or inconsequential. It is, in fact, extremely significant: its impact can continue through the years of our lives, traversing each situation we find ourselves in and constantly reminding us of its presence. And because this issue is cultivated in the school environment, it is critical that schools do more to address it, rather than completely disregard it. Certainly, there is no excuse for them to make the matter worse