What were they thinking?

The story made all of the local papers, including the Herald Journal, along with numerous national media outlets. Even People Magazine, CBS, and NBC thought it was newsworthy.

The Wasatch County School District, like most school districts, has a student dress code. As posted on their website, the policy states that “clothing will be modest, neat, clean, in good repair. Modesty includes covering shoulders, midriff, back, underwear, and cleavage at all times. Extreme clothing, including … inappropriately short, tight, or revealing shorts, skirts, dresses, tank shirts, halter or crop tops, spaghetti straps, etc, is prohibited ... Skirts, dresses and shorts must be at least mid-thigh length when seated.” 

Sounds reasonable. I wondered how it might compare with the dress codes in our local schools, so I looked up the “Dress Policy” at Mountain Crest. Don’t tell the kids this, but the dress code at Mountain Crest seems even more restrictive and certainly more specific than the one at Wasatch High.

“Any clothing the administration considers obscene or distracting to the educational process is not allowed. Shorts and skirts must be worn at or below the knee … Students’ shirts, blouses, or upper clothing are required to have sleeves. This includes but is not limited to tank tops or clothing that is strapless, low cut, bares the midsection, and bares the back or undergarments. Shirt necklines must be worn no lower than 3 inches below the collarbone. Pants may not be more than two inches larger than waist size. Pants must be worn securely around the waist without exposing underwear, holes in jeans above the knee must not reveal skin or undergarments … Transparent clothing that reveals undergarments will not be allowed.”

Most people would agree that dress and grooming of students can affect the school’s environment and learning climate. As the website of the Cache County School District states, “There is a positive relationship between good dress and grooming habits, good work and study habits, and proper school behavior. Cleanliness and modesty must be practiced. Any apparel that is immodest, unclean, and/or distracting will not be permitted in the school.”

Sounds good to me. But what caught my attention in the story about Wasatch High School’s yearbook photo alterations was not the dress code itself. The aspect of this story that attracted the national media was the fact that the students were allowed to wear clothing to school on yearbook photo day, but then later their photos were PhotoShop altered to make the students appear to have been in compliance with the dress code.

Sure. This girl’s neckline is a little too low? We’ll cover her up in a matching color. That girl’s outfit didn’t have sleeves? We’ll digitally paint them on. This off-white tank top doesn’t meet the dress code? We’ll fill it right in (bright white matches close enough). 

If schools want to put out yearbooks with idyllic-looking students, why not put PhotoShop to even more use? I’ll bet there are students who would pay the yearbook staff to digitally eliminate their skin blemishes. While they’re at it, they could whiten everybody’s teeth and fix any makeup mess-ups. For that matter, why not trim down the ears that stick out on that boy? Shaggy haircut, be gone! One cheerleader is heavier than the others — just trim down her thighs in the photo. And don’t even let me get started on what PhotoShop could do for the faculty!

My problem, you see, is that I think the whole purpose of a yearbook is to have a memory book of us, just the way we were. I’d be livid if someone were to go into my senior yearbook and get rid of my beehive-shaped blonde up-do, with big barrel curls. And I won’t even go into details about the expectation in my era that every senior girl would pull down her bra straps to be photographed in a fake fur shawl that bared just a bit of her shoulders. The senior boys just wore suits.

It really doesn’t matter that Wasatch High officials reportedly put up a sign, warning the students that their yearbook photos had to meet the school dress code, one way or another. And never mind that the yearbook photo editing apparently was done inconsistently.

If there is a dress code, it should be enforced. Students who refuse to comply should be required to change (or, alternatively, given fake fur shawls to wear). It is clearly hypocritical to try to whitewash the photos to make students who don’t obey the dress code appear as if they do. Does somebody, somewhere fear that non-compliant photos in the yearbook will provide written evidence that the school administration is not enforcing its own policies?

Some have argued that it’s about modesty. While I would agree that the policy should provide for reasonable modesty, I totally disagree that photos of less-than-perfectly modest students in the yearbook will harm young viewers. The “immodest” attire was worn to school that day and viewed by young and old. The real “cover-up” in this situation, it seems to me, was the school’s attempt to present an image that does not truthfully represent what is happening in the school.

My message to school administrators (and for that matter, parents and adult leaders) everywhere is simple: Please develop appropriate policies and enforce them uniformly. Your students will not benefit whatsoever from a lesson in how to whitewash the truth.

As Elvis once said, “Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t goin’ away.”

Kathy Archer, a Cache Valley native, is a working professional who enjoys life with her husband and grown kids. She is not an employee of the newspaper. She can be reached by email at kath_archer@yahoo.com.


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