Utah high school’s yearbook photo editing angers female students

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By Michael Martinez

(CNN) — A group of female students are outraged that their Utah high school digitally edited their photographs in the 2014 yearbook for apparently violating a dress code and failed to apply that policy to other apparent violators.

Intensifying the controversy are comments from the leader of the Rape Recover Center in Salt Lake City, who called for a school district investigation Thursday into the clothing policy, which she says is an example of a culture that shames girls and women.

School leaders stood by the dress code Thursday but admitted inconsistency in the digital editing, for which the superintendent apologized.

At issue is a dress policy that Wasatch High School in Heber City says it posted on yearbook picture day last fall: No tank tops. No low-cut tops. No inappropriate slogan on shirts.

Violations would result in the students’ portraits being edited, the school said.

Now that the yearbook has been distributed, several female students are complaining that their pictures were altered to show less skin without their knowledge, according to CNN affiliate KSTU.

No boys’ photos were digitally edited, the girls argued.

“They didn’t tell you before they edited it, and they didn’t give you an option to fix it, so you look funny in your yearbook picture,” sophomore Shelby Baum told the news outlet.

But the high school asserts that a large sign — 4 feet by 5 feet — warned all students of the policy at picture day last fall, the school said on its Facebook page.

In response, the female students say that the pictures of some girls who apparently violated the dress policy weren’t edited at all — an accusation that prompted the superintendent’s apology and a school promise to review its editing practices.

“I feel like they put names in a hat and pick and choose who,” sophomore Rachel Russel told the affiliate. “There were plenty of girls that were wearing thicker tank tops, and half of them got edited and half of them didn’t.”

Indeed, Rachel’s photo was clearly edited, according to images she showed the news station. Her original photo shows her wearing a low-cut top, but in the yearbook, her neckline is raised and covers a tattoo near her clavicle, the station reported.

Superintendent Terry E. Shoemaker of the Wasatch County School District defended the policy, but he apologized “in the sense that we wanted to be more consistent with what it is we’re trying to do,” he told the affiliate.

On its Facebook page, the school acknowledged that errors were made.

“In the application of these graphic corrections, the high school yearbook staff did make some errors and were not consistent in how they were applied to student photos and the school apologizes for that inconsistency,” the school said. “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.”

But the Rape Recovery Center in Salt Lake City raised broader issues, noting how female survivors of sexual violence “almost always blame themselves for wearing the wrong clothing or somehow encouraging men to rape them through their reckless behavior,” the center said on its Facebook page.

Holly Mullen, the center’s executive director, says the school district should investigate the policy and the school’s digital editing of yearbook photos. The center is Utah’s only independent, non-profit agency providing full-time services to survivors of sexual violence ages 14 and older.

“This action, a decision made by a few school officials with no apparent consultation with students or parents, is just unacceptable,” Mullen said in a statement. “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.

“This is the start of a continuum that nurtures and even encourages control over girls and women. What is more personal than their clothing choices? This is not about setting school dress codes, which schools certainly have the right to do. These were photos the girls paid for, yearbooks they bought with their own money. This is a public school, supported with tax dollars,” Mullen said.

Shoemaker wasn’t immediately available for comment on Mullen’s accusations.

For now, students will have to live forever with what they describe as unflattering photos in their yearbook.

“I was upset because my shirt was a cream color and the color of the cover-up was completely white. It looks like white-out on my skin,” sophomore Kimberly Montoya told KSTU.