chinese teens dress codes uniforms hair length teen suicide

Deadly dress codes? Teen's suicide being blamed on teacher bullying about hair length. Photo: Getty Images

Did a school's strict dress code push a 13-year-old girl to suicide?

That's what the parents of one student in China's Shandong Province are saying, claiming that constant complaints that their daughter's long hair violated the school dress code caused her to kill herself by drinking an entire bottle of pesticide, Shanghai Daily reports.

The seventh-grader, whose last name was Zhang, first ran away from home in September after her teacher, Zhou Malong, allegedly kicked her and another student out of class for having overly long hair, according to the paper.

After Zhang's father reportedly found her hiding at a supermarket, he took her to get a haircut.

But the girl was reportedly told that her hair was still too long. She told her parents that when she asked her teacher what cut was most appropriate, he was vague and then beat her as punishment.

Though Zhang's father contends that her hair was shorter than that of several other students, the girl reportedly underwent two more haircuts, leaving her with bangs that stopped above the eyebrows and locks that didn't reach her jaw line, Shanghai Daily reports.

Yet the shorn student was once again sent home from school last Saturday. Her parents tell the paper that Zhou texted to check on her later that evening, then turned off his cell phone.

Zhang killed herself later that night.

Now the girls' parents are accusing the school -- which has yet to comment -- of enforcing an overly rigid dress code and engaging in teacher bullying.

More and more schools are cracking down on what their students wear -- StyleList has recently reported on schools banning tight pants, jeggings, and hoodies -- but the story of Zhang suggests that appearance-based regulations may have a darker side.

"While one of the benefits of dress codes is that they create a level playing field for kids who may not be able to afford the latest and greatest fashions, they also eliminate the possibility of any self-expression, making some children feel they can't be themselves," Susan Stiffelman, family therapist and sister site ParentDish's "AdviceMama," tells StyleList.

The girl's age and teen insecurities may have also amplified the school's negative comments, Stiffelman says.

"Teen girls are painfully sensitive of how they appear to others and whether they fit in," the "Passionate Parenting" columnist and "Parenting Without Power Struggles" author tells us.

"These teachers committed an abhorrent act by putting down this child, not to mention the impossibility they created for her by not clearly defining what they wanted or needed her hair to look like so that she could comply."

The story also has parallels to the recent "bullicides" of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi and 15-year-old Massachusetts high school student Phoebe Prince, though in those cases the bullying was carried out by classmates rather than school officials, the latter situation known as "teacher bullying."

"Strict codes of dress are not always a problem for teens especially when everyone else must adhere to them," Judith M. Kuczynski of Bully Police tells us.

"The problem comes when the code is applied to favor certain students and used to ridicule or humiliate a few. The child has nowhere to turn and the only way out of the situation is to remove themselves."

"Casual comments made by teachers can be taken to heart by sensitive teenagers, even if they are meant as throwaway remarks," Liz Carnell of anti-bullying organization Bullying UK tells StyleList.

"It isn't always easy to work out if bullying is taking place or if there is a clash of personality between a teacher trying to enforce a discipline code or trying to get a pupil to produce better work. Sometimes this pressure can be interpreted as bullying."

Carnell advises that parents who suspect that their child is being bullied by teachers should talk to the parents of their child's friends, who may have witnessed similar incidents.

"After speaking to other parents, the best way to resolve a problem is to make a complaint to the head teacher [principal] and if that isn't successful, to the school governors [school board]," she says.

"It's also helpful to keep a diary of incidents together with a note of who else was present and witnessed remarks so that there is something to show the head teacher."

What's your take? Do you think the school bullied the girl with their harsh dress code? Leave a comment.

Meanwhile, one student is fighting for the right to wear her nose piercing to school.