Utah: ‘Coverup’ Exposed in Botched Yearbook Photo Censorship Campaign

By Greg Tartaglione, SIECUS Program Research Intern

Female students at Wasatch High School in Heber City, Utah—just an hour outside Salt Lake City— are claiming that administrators had their yearbook portraits photo-edited to cover cleavage, bare shoulders, and tattoos to accord with the school dress code without their permission or previous knowledge. Wasatch’s school policy states that clothing must be "modest, neat, clean and in good repair" and defines modesty as “covering shoulders, midriff, back, underwear and cleavage at all times" though students note that sleeveless tops are rarely reprimanded. The dress code also allows students to have tattoos as long as they are not "conspicuous, extreme or odd.” Students noted that they were not reprimanded for any of the outfits that were edited for the yearbook.[1]

Students have been very vocal about feeling personally “shamed” due to the administration’s inconsistency with policy. While some of the young women’s yearbook photos were edited, photos of other young women wearing the same tops and revealing the same body parts were not. Most notably, not a single male student was edited for exposing skin.

One parent approached for a statement noted that her child had shown her a yearbook page from the previous year entitled “Wasatch Stud Life: Studs doin’ [sic] what studs do best!” in which teenage boys were celebrated for baring their chests, tattoos, and underwear.[2]

Utah is known for its large religious communities and stringent moral standards, but opponents of the school’s unequal yearbook photo standards for males and females argue that the issue goes far beyond dress code. Holly Mullen, executive director of the Rape Recovery Center in Salt Lake City, has called for a district investigation into school policy standards which she believes are “an example of a culture that shames girls and women” for dressing in a way that “encourage[es] men to rape them through their reckless behavior.”[3]

Sophomore Kimberly Montoya, who had sleeves edited onto her yearbook photo, told reporters that the pictures merely represent the way the school aims to “humiliate” young women who break dress code. She tells a story of being reprimanded for wearing what the article described as an “immodest skirt” and ordered to wear a pair of sweatpants with the words “I support Wasatch High dress code” written on them as punishment so that "People know you got dress-coded, that something about you was immodest. They look at you like, ‘You done wrong,’” she remarked of her experience.[4]

District Superintendent Terry Shoemaker issued a statement explaining that students had been warned that, if outfits did not comply with dress code standards, photos would be edited accordingly. Many students and parents are claiming that they don’t remember receiving any such warning. While acknowledging that"Wasatch High School and Wasatch County School District are evaluating the practice of photo editing of pictures as it now stands and will make a determination on further use of the practice," Shoemaker said little to address the gender double standard. He only apologized “that we could have done a better job in enforcing [the dress code] consistently.”[5]

In an Op Ed piece for the Salt Lake Tribune, one person noted that the Wasatch school district has been making strides in the past few years to address local concerns:

“They [recently] instituted an anti-bullying campaign. Now, the final frontier is to understand that reprimanding girls who are wearing clothing considered appropriate attire in most of the country or making them march around in special sweat suits is bullying.”[6]



[1] Kristen Moulton, “Utah school defends yearbook editing for modesty,” Salt Lake Tribune, May 29, 2014, accessed June 17, 2014 at http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/58002926-78/dress-students-code-font.html.csp.

[2] Erin Alberty and Kristen Moulton,“Girls’ yearbook photos edited; boys bared skin, underwear, tattoos” The Salt Lake Tribune, May 30, 2014, accessed June 17, 2014 at http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/58007750-78/yearbook-dress-girls-code.html.csp.

[3] Michael Martinez, “Utah high school's yearbook photo editing angers female students,” CNN.com, May 29, 2014, accessed June 17, 2014at http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/29/us/utah-high-school-yearbook-photos-editing.

[4] Erin Alberty, “Students say altered yearbook photos meant to shame them,”Salt Lake Tribune, May 28, 2014, accessed June 17, 2014 at http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/58000870-78/baum-photos-montoya-yearbook.html.csp.

[5] Benjamin Wood,“Wasatch School District defends decision to edit yearbook photos,” Deseret News, May 29, 2014, accessed June 17, 2014 at http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865604111/Wasatch-School-District-defends-decision-to-edit-yearbook-photos.html?pg=all.

[6] “More skin in the game. Bare shoulders in Utah continue to draw attention...”Salt Lake Tribune, June 9, 2014, accessed June 17, 2014 at http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/blogsdebate/58046947-176/yearbook-sltrib-com-http.html.csp.

 

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