High school administrators in Utah have come under fire this week for digitally altering some female students’ yearbook photos to make it appear as though they’re wearing higher necklines and longer sleeves. The students are upset that the pictures were photoshopped without their knowledge, but the school officials say they’re just making sure that the yearbook adheres to the dress code.
“I just started flipping through and noticed that mine was edited, that my shirt was pulled up farther,” Shelby Baum, a sophomore at Wasatch High School whose altered photo is pictured above, told KSTU. “They didn’t tell you before they edited it, they didn’t give you an option to fix it — so you look funny in your yearbook picture.”
The students also complained that the editing appeared to be somewhat random. Even among the girls who were wearing similar shirts, only some of those photos were altered, while others remained untouched.
School officials acknowledged that they should have done a better job of altering every photo that didn’t meet the dress code, but see no issue with photoshopping pictures of female students. “We only apologize in the sense that we want to be more consistent with what we’re trying to do in that sense we can help kids better prepare for their future by knowing how to dress appropriately for things,” Terry E. Shoemaker, the superintendent for the Wasatch County School District, said in a statement.
Wasatch School District’s dress code bans articles of clothing that “cause an actual and/or perceived disruption of the educational environment or activities,” and specifies that “modesty includes covering shoulders, midriff, back, underwear, and cleavage at all times.” The policy bans short skirts, spaghetti straps, crop tops, and anything that’s too “tight and revealing.” Crossdressing is also explicitly prohibited.
It’s not unusual for schools to strictly police girls’ clothing in this way. Across the country, school dress codes send girls the message that it’s their responsibility to cover up their bodies so they’re not objectified by their male peers. Several schools have recently sparked controversy for banning leggings and kicking girls out of prom, all under the guise of preventing boys from getting too “distracted.”
But ultimately, dress codes place an unfair burden on girls, teaching them they have to change their behavior to accommodate boys who can’t control themselves. They also tend to reinforce gender stereotypes and punish kids for straying outside of them. Parents have protested these clothing restrictions, pointing out they ultimately reinforce unhealthy attitudes about sexuality that contribute to rape culture.