Picture day was one of my favorite days in high school. It was exciting to get a little extra dressed up, wear your favorite shirt and brush away your fly-a-ways with a black plastic comb. Everyone had something to look forward to and talk about. The only day that can top that is when yearbooks are distributed, and you can see your picture in print. Unfortunately, for a group of girls in Herber City, Utah, the experience was not so positive.
This week, girls at Wasatch High School were shocked to learn their high school yearbook photos had been Photoshopped. Yes, you read that correctly: Their high school yearbook photos were Photoshopped. Not next month’s Vogue cover model, not an upcoming swimsuit ad. But rather, photos of teenage girls who are especially vulnerable to the idea of needing Photoshop to change or “fix” their appearance had just that done to their high school portraits.
And we’re not even talking face thinning or skin-tone brightening here: What yearbook editors did was added sleeves and created higher necklines to cover up bare (but not in anyway graphic or vulgar) skin. In one instance, a tattoo was erased.
“I feel like they’re shaming you, like you’re not enough, you’re not perfect,” said sophomore Shelby Baum, the owner of the tattoo that reads, “I am enough the way I am.” Before getting the tattoo on her collarbone, she checked the school’s dress code, which reads as follows: “Clothing will be modest, neat, clean, in good repair. Modesty includes covering shoulder, midriff, back, underwear and cleavage at all times.”
Shelby also had a high neckline added to her black v-neck shirt.
Shelby says she honestly believed she was acting within the boundaries of the rules, and I believe her: Her tattoo is simple, inoffensive script. I also understand why schools have dress codes. I don’t necessarily agree with them all the time, but I understand why they have them. Dress codes are tricky to enforce, especially when heavy enforcement is based on loose words like “modest,” because almost everyone defines “modest” differently. Aside from that, women are all built differently, and many school principals don’t understand that the same skirt can hit a five foot tall girl just above the knees, but make a six foot tall girl look like a Vegas showgirl. I digress. Dress code or no dress code, I think the Wasatch High School yearbook Photoshopping crosses the line.
The Wasatch Country School District issued a statement saying it was made clear at the time the photos were taken that if students were in violation of the dress code, their images might be altered. Okay, fine, technically the students were given a fair warning. But on picture day, are you really thinking, “This shirt might be too low-cut. Let me go home and change really quick!” No, you aren’t. You’re just excited to get your picture taken. It’s like that waiver you have to sign before getting your wisdom teeth out, but they’ve already had you hooked you up to the laughing gas for 10 minutes and you can’t remember how to spell your own name, so of course you’ll sign it! You’ll sign anything! I bet the students weren’t even reminded what the stipulations of the actual dress code are, just that their photos could be altered if they weren’t following it. And I bet it was in really, really, really fine print. Also, WHAT IS WRONG WITH SHOULDERS.
I understand students have to follow clear-cut rules when they’re at school, but editing photos like this is downright humiliating. If it had to come to Photoshop, I think the girls deserved a heads up that their original photos were going to be altered. Another thing is, the girls say the standards weren’t’ uniformly applied to all of the photos.
“It is a keen example of how our culture, and especially those in power to make such random decisions, shame young women into thinking they must dress and act in one narrow, acceptable way,” Holly Mullen, executive director of the Rape Recovery Center in Utah said in a statement.
From what I can see in the photos, I don’t see anything wrong with these girls’ outfits. There’s a difference between a possible gray area of modesty and showing off your cleavage. I don’t think any of these girls were trying to offend or get away with anything—they were just excited about school picture day, which will now forever be remembered as the day their carefully-selected outfits got Photoshopped without warning.