Studies looking into the impact of school uniforms on mental health have shown, for the most part, that they are indeed beneficial. A study commissioned by the Schoolwear Association involved a number of student focus groups and was conducted with the intention of finding out their perceptions of wearing a uniform.
Feedback from the participants (aged 13-17) found that having a uniform meant they didn’t have to worry about what to wear each day and didn’t worry about being bullied by their peers when it came to the clothes they wear. It was even found that uniforms improve concentration and foster a sense of pride.
On reading these findings, I can understand why. Chances are, if kids were allowed to wear whatever they wanted to school, bullies would have a field day picking out differences in others. School uniforms do a huge amount to protect against this, but I don’t think it totally eliminates bullying based on appearance.
I remember vividly rolling up my skirt and buying the ‘right’ shoes to try and fit in with my peers at school. I still got picked on for both. It seemed that despite us all wearing the same uniform, even the subtlest of differences can be picked up.
For me personally, school uniforms affected my mental health in a negative way. At school, I struggled with anorexia and self-harm, a great deal of which was centred around how I looked and whether or not I fitted in with my peers.
It wasn’t until I went shopping, the summer after GCSEs, to pick out new clothes for college that I realised just how negatively my school uniform affected me.
Picking out my own clothes and being free to express myself, gave me a sense of confidence I didn’t know I had. It signalled a chance for me to reinvent myself, away from the uniform I associated with so much pain. I was given a chance to be unique and explore who I was, out of my uniform. It was freeing for me.
Weighing it up, I can see why school uniforms are considered beneficial for mental health and appreciate that my case may have been an exception to the rule. I do think, however, it’s important that, amongst the statistics and research that often come alongside mental health studies, we consider the nuances and remember that everyone experiences mental health differently.
However your child feels about their school uniform, the most important thing is to keep an open dialogue with your child. Keep talking to them and keep mental health a part of the conversation. Try to remind them that there is more to life than school, and when they leave, a whole new world will open up to them.