When students at Wasatch High School, in Heber City, Utah got their yearbooks, some of them were surprised and angered by what they saw. Someone had digitally altered their photos by adding sleeves and bringing up the necklines. Though tank tops are not within the school’s dress code, several of the students said that their outfits not only complied with the guidelines, but they wore the same clothes at school on more than one occasion.
Each of the altered outfits was worn by female students. Kimberly Montoya, a sophomore, said that she felt like she had been unfairly targeted. She was stunned and shocked as well as disappointed that she had not been told. Montoya added that she would have likely been okay with the alteration, had she been asked.
The students felt that when the pictures were edited, their rights to self-expression were stepped on. The girls also believe that the standards for doing the edits were not applied fairly. Sleeves were added to sophomore Rachel Russell’s photograph, which she said, made her angry. The editing jobs were not just about covering exposed and bare skin. Shelby Baum, a sophomore, found that the higher and squared neckline that covered her V-neck, also concealed a tattoo.
In a statement released on Thursday, the Wasatch County School District claims that at the beginning of the school year, when the photographs were taken, students were warned that the images could be altered if dress code violations occurred. The students were forgiven for having perhaps forgotten that a warning had been issued. Officials with the district apologized for the inconsistent manner by which the alterations were applied. They said they are re-evaluating their policy for the doctoring of photos.
With a population of 12,000, Heber City is 30 miles away from Salt Lake City. Approximately two-thirds of the residents of Utah are Mormon. Modesty in their attire is a major part of how they convey their belief in God. The guidelines tend to apply more to the way women dress than the clothes that men wear. Short skirts and shorts, low-cut tops and bare sleeves are strictly forbidden.
The Mormons believe that the body is a gift from God. They also believe that God wants his followers to be chaste. Amongst Mormons, there is a general discomfort with clothes that are seen to promote sexuality. Somewhere along the lines, comfortable clothes like tank tops became equated with sexuality.
Leaders in the church are ever vigilante reminding young Mormon girls to stick to the modesty standards they grew up with, regardless of the popular fashions of society. The dress code literature from the Wasatch School District utilizes much the same language and sentiment as the Mormon guidelines. Another sophomore, Haylee Nielsen, points out that the focus on modesty at their school causes non-Mormon students to sometimes feel judged.
The executive director at the Rape Recovery Center of Utah, Holly Mullen, said that the altering of high school photographs is an example of the perpetuation of the shame culture places on young women. This leads them to believe that they need to act and dress in restrictive ways and if they do not, they are bad or deserving of being violated.
Knowing how sensitive young girls are about how they look and dress, the school should have considered using better lines of communication. To make sure there was understanding about the prospect of their photos being altered, emails needed to be sent to the parents. Yearbook time for students is supposed to be about anticipation of the future, but for some in Utah, it turned into angry feelings about the past.
Opinion By Stacy Lamy