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Policing Girls’ Bodies Part Two: Legs

K2UAX4ERG4I wouldn’t mind reclaiming my high school nickname: Legs. It’s kind of cute. “Hey Legs!” my favorite school administrator would shout when she saw me roaming the halls, having absconded from class. I would look down at my knees feeling all the traits implied by that sassy little nickname: daring, provocative, cute, outrageous. I would grin at her and pull down my skirt a couple inches, as if to say, “Thanks for the heads up.” At Ramaz, the modern Orthodox day school I attended, my knees were absolutely unwelcome. She was saving me from a potential “tzniut (modesty) violation” by a serious dress code enforcer down the hall. 

After davening every morning, one rabbi or another would deliver our morning announcements, which on a typical day went something like this: “There’s cereal in the lunchroom for those who want breakfast. There’s a winter clothing drive going on, so bring coats and scarves to the office. And…girls! Because of recent complaints about dress code, we feel the need to restate the requirements for sleeve and skirt length. The test for shirts is as follows: when you raise your arms above your head, your shirt should not rise to expose your midriff. As for skirts—how many times do we need to say this?!—your skirts should not be above-the-knee, nor should they be to-the-knee. They should cover your knees! If your skirt does not cover your knees, you will be sent to the office.” More than once (hence the nickname), I had been sent to the office, where a huge, shapeless, black garbage bag of a skirt awaited girls convicted of dress code violations.