Amy Roberts: The right to bare arms
June 3, 2014
A group of students in neighboring Heber City are, well, up in arms over their digitally altered yearbook photos. Several pictures of female students were edited to cover exposed shoulders, remove tattoos and raise necklines.
You’ve probably heard the story — it went viral, making international news and leaving school administrators with a heaping truckload of deserved criticism — from outraged parents to professional graphic designers offended by the dreadfully amateurish Photoshop job. (Seriously, it looks like elementary students did it using colored pencils and an eraser.)
The school’s superintendent, Terry E. Shoemaker, defended the picture editing by saying, "We can help kids better prepare for their future by knowing how to dress appropriately for things."
While I don’t have kids, I do have a job. In fact, I’ve had several since graduating from high school and I can assure you never once has my employer asked to see my high-school yearbook photo prior to hiring me.
So let’s be real. What this school is really saying is that these young women should hide their bodies, to be compliant with someone else’s standard of morality. And if they don’t, it’s acceptable to make them feel as if they’ve done something terribly wrong. If the school had a more skilled Photoshop team, they probably would have happily airbrushed a red letter "A" on all those scandalous, shoulder-showing girls.
Holly Mullen, executive director of the Rape Recovery Center in Utah, said in a statement the altered photos are an example of a culture that shames girls and women. She noted that female survivors of sexual violence are almost always blamed for wearing the wrong clothing or somehow encouraging men to rape them through their reckless behavior. Mullen said the school’s behavior "reinforces a general theme in society that women must be controlled and directed, so as not to inflame male sexual appetites. It is the type of thinking that objectifies women and ultimately leads to sexual assault."
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In other words — when a man gets raped, no one ever talks about what he was wearing.
Women are constantly bombarded with messages our bodies aren’t okay just the way they are. On TV, online, on billboards. Every single place we look. You can’t even check out at the grocery store without be screamed at by magazine covers claiming we are too fat, too thin, not sexy enough, too sexy, we can drop 5 pounds by next week by eating this, have a flat belly by tomorrow if we sleep on our heads and we can get bigger boobs by reciting the word "apple" twenty times a day. It’s exhausting.
A public school should provide an escape from these unrealistic standards and should not endorse the not-so-subtle message that women (in this case teenage girls) should be embarrassed for having the nerve to show their collarbones.
Having a dress code is one thing, having an unqualified, self-imposed morality police is quite another. The Wasatch High School dress code bans articles of clothing that "cause an actual and/or perceived disruption of the educational environment or activities." That’s pretty open to interpretation. But even so, who’s to say shoulders are disruptive but elbows are not? Are all the cool kids into clavicle sex now or something?
Considering how many students commented about this situation on social media, I’d say the school should be far more concerned with teaching kids the difference between "wear" and "where" than seeing a girl’s shoulders.
But I suppose the superintendent did fulfill his mission to "help kids better prepare for their future" in at least one sense. Because the student yearbook editors have gained valuable experience and are now ready to step into jobs at Fox News or Chick-fil-A.
Amy Roberts is a longtime Park City resident, freelance writer and the proud owner of two ill-behaved rescue dogs, Boston and Stanley.
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