x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Who makes up all those school rules on appearance?

Many of the regulations about school life make little obvious sense.

School regulations can generally be counted on to give the kids a good laugh.
School regulations can generally be counted on to give the kids a good laugh.

It's a wonder a book hasn't been written about the sorts of rules and regulations schools tend to have nowadays. Combine the rules I have come across in previous institutions or the ones in friends' schools, and the collection is pleasantly pointless. Make-up is usually either allowed in class or it is not, so it's a pleasant surprise to discover that you can "wear foundation that does not vary more than two shades up or down from your natural skin tone", as a teacher told us during an assembly about improper attire at school.

Spray tans had not been taken into account in the school where this rule was implemented, leading to students enthusiastically arguing with teachers over what would be deemed their natural skin tone. The same went for hair dye. "Pink isn't that far from my natural hair colour," I heard a girl pleading with a weary-looking teacher. "I mean, strawberries are kind of pinky, and my hair's kind of strawberry blonde. They're just highlights, anyway."

The girl was finally sent away when she took pity on the teacher and admitted that the colour would come off in the next wash. Blush was allowed as long as it was the same shade as the student's natural blush when she pinched her cheeks between thumb and forefinger. This rule grew to be blissfully ignored by students and teachers alike over the years, but not before several cases of suspiciously deeply blushing girls had been picked out. The problem then was to find out whether they turned as crimson as their make-up when their cheeks were pinched.

One school's attitude towards nails was especially well-planned. Whoever wrote the rule book was either a skilled beautician or the mother of a teenager. Somehow I can't imagine the dean-cum-maths-teacher, who lived, ate and dreamed trig ratios, knowing or caring about the difference between a cuticle and the free edge. We were allowed clear nail polish or French manicures, but no coloured nail paint or crystals. There was even a maximum distance the nail could extend beyond the tip of the finger. But then again, there was a maximum height for heels, too, but I have never yet experienced a member of the faculty stopping someone in the hallway, whipping out measuring tape from their pockets and kneeling down to do some nice, early-morning shoe measuring.

Black shoes and white socks probably are reasonable enough, but don't go down too well with teenagers. In a previous school, simply enforcing the rule led to everyone wearing green socks, stripy socks, ones with teddy bears on - anything but white socks. A friend, Nat, who had lost her black shoes, managed to evade teachers when she sauntered into school with mismatched Converses one day, as she always does.

She was tracked down by the principal, who informed her that Converse shoes were not allowed in class. The next day, she trotted in wearing electric-blue kittens. Over the following weeks, she showed off her entire shoe collection and took to sprinting away or taking refuge in the nearest classroom when the principal approached. Funnily enough, these events took place after it was announced that it was detention for anyone who got too adventurous with their footwear. No one had bothered with wearing non-school shoes earlier, but with something new to rebel against, the students soon taught the school a useful lesson in reverse psychology.

Protests about equality were sparked when a school decided that boys were not allowed to wear earrings or have long hair, even though few of them sported either. Another rule I fail to understand the purpose of is "no chewing gum". When we are allowed everything from gummy bears to soda pop, chewing gum seems harmless. The issue was that we apparently stick chewed-up wads under tables, defiling school property. This hasn't stopped us chewing away. However, rather than make a detour to the bin and risk getting caught, that is exactly where we are now forced to dispose of our gum - although under the teacher's desk is fast becoming another popular location for the more intrepid among us.

I remember when we were gravely told in assembly that there would be serious consequences if weapons were found among our possessions. Apart from the usual knives and revolvers, the list of weapons included sabres and shurikens. Some people are just not content to restrict rules to "No talking in class" and "Proper uniform". Today's teachers must not only have the skills to determine whether eyelashes have been tinted more than two shades darker than their natural colour, but need to learn to distinguish between a pendant and a shuriken.

Just in case a student is planning to disturb the learning process with ninja weaponry. Lavanya Malhotra is a 14-year-old student in Dubai.