Earth Calling Utah: We are At the Beginning of the 21st Century Not the 19th

Current Trends by Natasha Sapp

Something apparently Utah needs to be reminded of considering a high school there was thrust into the national spotlight for dubiously and arbitrarily editing students’ yearbook photos for modesty; not necessarily surprising considering the Mormon religious influence on the state throughout history, significant populations of Mormon citizens currently residing in the area. What is surprising and upsetting to students is both, what they saw fit to edit, and how they went about doing so; not only are owners of the affected pictures along with some of their parents angry they were given no chance to fix problematic photos making them look stupid in outfits chosen for picture day, they are incredulous that photos remarkably similar to theirs were unedited. Moreover, despite officials claim there were signs posted outside the photo area, there are some inconsistencies as to whether that is actually the case, as are the assertions about the school’s dress code and their awareness of it; debates cropping up as to if the students’ chosen clothing truly, significantly violated their published dress parameters. Administrators only apologizing for a failure in communication, not editing the students’ photos without permission, not, if you chose to enforce your dress code this way, having someone there turning away students who did not meet standards, a photographer, teacher admonishing a girl with visible bra strap to tuck it in, not the 1800’s puritanical mindset seeming to confuse normal female clothing for the modern age with Miley Cyrus’ twerking outfit, Lil’ Kim’s pasties or the cause of Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction. People, arguably old, white men, if the principal is any indication, who seem determined to deliberately confuse showing the bare space between the top of a woman’s, a teen girl’s neck and the beginning of her bust line (think where a standard photo drape sits) with cleavage pushed up and falling out of a crop or tube top complete with something vulgar, suggestive written where her breasts are. Or so low you can literally see down her shirt to her breasts from eye level, none of which the girls in the yearbook came close to before alterations were unscrupulously foisted upon them. Persons in charge who again, deliberately confuse a tank top, variations on a sleeveless t-shirt, with a tube top, looking more like a strapless sports bra or bikini wear. That’s what is rightfully making these young women upset.

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tank top

Your standard, basic tank top taken from Nordstrom’s own website is what they consider too racy for school?

At first glance, perusing the before and after photos provided to news outlets nationwide, one might think it was the bra strap in one, the could be questionable neckline, and what was later identified as a tattoo, in another that prompted school personnel to change the photos until students are presented on camera showing yearbook photos, almost too similar to tell apart, untouched. That it wasn’t a basic retouching, airbrushing out of the “offending” strap, tattoo but additionally the placing of sleeves to finish off the final product raising many student, parent tempers and eyebrows. Removing tattoos, shoring up plunging, cleavage strewn neck lines leaving nothing to the imagination and photo shopping a tacky bra strap may be one thing, but since when, in what recent decade was bare shoulders a sign of inappropriate attire to be in school, in public, to even be on a job depending on 2 things: what kind of job and the type of sleeveless blouse/shirt you are wearing. Continuing, while students admitted certain edited photos included those wearing tank tops, from the neck up from the bust up, it could easily have been a sundress, any number of sleeveless summer shirts often warn by everyone, elementary school children to grown women. Tank tops, at the risk of sounding repetitive, not synonymous with tube tops, crop tops or midriff visible shirts also often worn as running gear, part of yoga outfits, probably used routinely in gym class, regularly worn in hot weather, a potential factor depending on when these yearbook photos were taken, as is the scenario one commenter put forward describing the circumstances under which these specific pictures were likely done. That scenario being they were shot in August at class registration, students still coming off vacation, minimal staff present outside those distributing class schedules, locker assignments, parking permits and guidance counselors on hand to iron out requested schedule changes. The singular tattoo edited, needing editing out could easily have been a birthmark, mole, other skin discoloration which was, by the way, partially covered by clothing; where the picture cuts off making it appear more suggestive and racy than it ever actually was, a pattern across all the edited photos. In fact her questionable outfit, probably worn to please her parents, easily acceptable for almost any business casual dental office, social work position or clerical appointment. One would expect higher intelligence, common sense levels from officials charged with educating kids, teens, comment posting citizens so worried about the current state of things than to be incapable of differentiating between a single tattoo going across the collar bone to the shoulder from a chest tattoo done in the area of someone’s cleavage, clearly done on a woman’s breast, something noninvasive vs. clearly attention grabbing and suggestive, or isn’t anatomy and physiology a science elective option in Utah?  You know you’re in a bad place when the guy on Fox News, known as the American conservative media machine, expresses his marvel that these dress examples are what’s causing a problem in 2014. Muddying waters, making things even more murky, and quite frankly, suspicious is that only one news outlet, the local Fox affiliate in Utah said anything about the girls knowingly violating the school’s dress code adding had they known they would have been changed, they would have worn different clothing. But this was said at the end by a news anchor not any of the effected students themselves. Contrastingly the Salt Lake City Tribune’s article, updated May 30, contains a statement from the tattoo altered young woman saying she got the so offending ink after consulting said dress code. An earlier version quotes at least one parent accompanying 2 of the girls to class registration who, like students, didn’t see any 4-5 foot sign denoting no tank tops, spaghetti straps or cleavage, claims circulating through comment boards. Not to mention assuming the August registration theory is correct, why did they not confront students at the latest mid-year before the yearbook went to printing about the unacceptable photos, give them a chance to submit a different photo and follow through on your wish to teach a lesson?

Earth to Utah blouse photo 2

Note too how similar this, also from Nordstrom’s, is to the floral print shirt edited and it, like the edited one, is not a spaghetti strap.

 

tube top

Here is the actual problematic outfit schools are trying to avoid with dress codes, obviously worn on someone too young for it not to be suggestive; none of which the edited girl’s photos came close to.

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http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/58000870-78/baum-girls-montoya-photos.html.csp

Worse this school did not crack down on their dress code due to an uptick in teen pregnancies locally, regionally, an outbreak of STD’s/STI’s either within the school or within the state, a  rash of harassment, assaults, sexual assaults, rape on school grounds or in the surrounding neighborhoods. They did not enforce a stricter form of dress owing to teacher, related staff, authority figures spending more time lecturing students on appropriate attire, in response to fellow student complains, constituting a distraction generated by students’ individual self-expression, rather because they could. Directly countering one commenter who said quote: A school is a place of business. The business is Education.  Students should dress accordingly. If they want to “express themselves” in a manner that detracts from the professional environment they should do it elsewhere;” in other words instead of educating kids, they choose to wage war on spaghetti straps, tank tops, gasp, here it comes, bare shoulders. Noted too is who actually did the editing a nebulous, undefined entity known as the year book staff best described by the following,…“The actual editing was done by KIDS on the yearbook staff.  A snarky teenage girl clique, in other words… They were ordered to do so by a single blue-haired bureaucrat whose personal “standards” are not only WAY out of step with the “Mormon” community, but don’t even match the school’s published dress code.” [Sic] Independent of religion or that the above is taken from a list of truths seen through the eyes of an atheist living in the Mormon community posted to a comment board, it explain the girls’ analogy that it was like they picked names out of hat some got edited, some didn’t.  And when they got caught red handed being arbitrary and capricious, when they got caught being sneaky and conniving, potentially violating copyright law, assuming a studio was hired to take said photos, high school seniors submitted a senior portrait done courtesy of a studio according to custom. When they got called out, plain and simple, for giving carte blanche to a yearbook staff largely run by students, when they were shamed nationally for a poorly supervised, out of control yearbook staff obviously given too much power, they made it about a dress code, girls who apparently violated it. Further substantiating the effected female students’ argument, in one video clip the school’s principal reiterates the communication breakdown, confusion regarding the dress policy, parent/student notification, yet in another clip used by adjacent news outlets he says part of the school’s decision making process on the photos was their responsibility to teach kids how to dress appropriately for things. Disregarding one, you don’t do that by only enforcing the dress code on picture day, two you enforce it all the days of the school year, not just picture day, flying in the face of very believable students claiming they wore the exact same clothing throughout the year without issue. Looking at overall teen dress today most adults, a few in their age group, might agree with the principal, at least understand his point of view.  Except hold on they weren’t going to work, weren’t reporting for a job interview, attending church, someone’s wedding, the photos weren’t taken for yearbook activities denoting dress like a professional day, dress like your future career day, job shadowing day, events mandating they dress in professional attire for purposes of appearance supporting a given theme. Yet we might accept their goal was modesty in an immodest age if the most altered things were actually tattoos, unseemly necklines and not simply bare shoulders. Or if it wasn’t for a parent, unrelated to this school, this story recounting her own run in with her son’s principal over his senior and final yearbook photo in which he wore, according to a long held school picture tradition for him, a tuxedo t-shirt. After his friend pulled him aside alerting him the principal didn’t like it and its probability of being pulled from the yearbook solely on those grounds, said parent had to have a very heated conversation reminding the authority in charge it was her money, her decision and he had better include the provided photo of her child.

 

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Nor is it about kids who can’t follow rules anymore and their enabling parents propping up crybabies who need to join the real world, oh the horror children made to obey rules, how much a school yearbook won’t matter in 10 years, too much of what the commenting public is fixated on. Neither is it about debating whether a school can or cannot have a dress code, should or should not have standards, the productivity and merits of having said code, said pillars guiding conduct or having this particular one, these specific statutes in place; it is about the inconsistency. Forcefully but eloquently demonstrated in the proceeding news story comment, “FREEDOM is about the fact that ONE person’s OPINION does not RULE OTHER PEOPLE.  The students didn’t come to school naked….so there ARE boundaries and not anything goes.  The School District CAN have standards, BUT it needs to enforce those standards in a uniform and reasonable manner.  The ISSUE was that the kids had their photos approved and they were changed WITHOUT being informed AND the “standards” were not uniformly enforced.” Lending credence to the students’ valid uproar goes beyond the abysmal hack job done in touching up the photos, leaving one girl saying it looked like she had whiteout on her skin, returning to the Salt Lake City Tribune article, describing photo editing that sheared off one girl’s hair they apparently attempted to draw it back on leaving a huge poof on her shoulder, drawing attention to her neckline, poor photo touching sadly more reminiscent of a senior prank than a campaign for modesty, is statements they repeatedly wore the exact same clothing all year, nothing said to them, no disciplinary action taken; a point laid out by an observant poster not buying the school’s explanation. “They weren’t sent home from school for dressing inappropriately, therefore their clothing must’ve passed the dress code.  The school will have to issue new yearbooks with unaltered pics to avoid lawsuits.  They learned a valuable lesson: address attire issues face to face, not get sneaky (and snarky) about it. If the issue is really the clothing, then the students should be sent home from school for violating the dress code.” And how do we already know had offending bra strap girl been wearing a strapless, front hook bra, everyone would have had something to say about the modesty, decency, appropriateness of that, including school administrators? Almost exactly happened; alarming, just how many American’s come down on the opposite side of this supporting the school district less on the basis of rules but as a values judgment against the teens and their parents. Story responders doggedly taking out their frustrations regarding seeing young teen girls ‘looking more like they are working a corner than underage’ in their too short shorts, behind handing out, can nearly see their underwear, 300 lbs trying to fit into clothes made for 150 lbs on young girls whose photos were completely appropriate for the occasion. Outside the larger issues of freedom of expression, our dwindling individual rights and freedoms put in direct opposition to authority figures seemingly trying to pull one over on kids thinking they can’t fight back, is who is paying for these yearbooks and, rightfully brought to the forefront,  school monies given by way of tax payer dollars wasted on excessive editing.

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Bordering on the equally absurd and obsessive, how many made it about the 16 year old whose tattoo was covered with sleeves and how she must have neglectful, subpar, low class, white trash parents treating their daughter like a friend rather than their child. Even after continued reading of the national Fox News follow up article stating the offending sleazy, skanky, slutty tat- ink that makes all girls who get it seem cheap was an affirmation reading I am enough the way I am shared as a type of family tradition between her, her sister and her mother garnered at her age with parent permission elevating the abuse of a “bad” parent all around. Practically screaming there had to be a better way to give this child self-esteem and the message she is enough, casting judgments on what it says that mom has a tattoo, inks her children for self-worth. However, if we were talking about a tribal tattoo belonging to an American Indian tribe, Hawaiian or pacific islander, a cultural belief including coming of age, familial association, occasion commination tattoos from small groups commonly found in a rain forest jungle who immigrated here, there would be no conversation, no double standard so, why the controversy? Next, misconstruing another parent’s comment that she notes her daughter’s clothes every day and saw nothing inappropriate, commenting on how sad it was parents had to monitor what their child wore to ensure a rudimentary level of decency instead of grasping the parents point; not that she had to radically enforce a dress code, but did view her teen daughters clothes daily as she left for school seeing nothing objectionable, so who was the school to edit her picture? Secondary undercurrent arguments centering on their future inability to date guys who were not dirt bags, to get a business level job embodied by this outspoken opinion. “I was class of 2001 in a public high school in Michigan. If a male or female student showed up to school with their shoulders exposed, either on picture day or any other day, they would have the option to be sent home or where a shirt that says, “I Love My School”. They would have never made it in front of the camera. Is it really crazy to expect our kids to where shirts that at least cover the shoulder, and to avoid plunging necklines? I feel that I am fairly liberal, but this is not news and should not be a big deal. I understand that many might be frustrated with the editing after the fact. I do see some problems with that, but I do not feel the school is out of line with their dress code expectations.” Ok I myself grew up in a Bible belt state several hundred miles south of the person above, class of 2000 and girls would not have been sent home for tank tops vs. strapless halter/tube tops, girls and boys routinely wore sleeveless sundresses, tops owning to only part of the large high school building possessing air conditioning. The biggest problem at my school, encompassing the Bible belt, was pushed up pant legs, supposedly advertising gang affiliation and explicit, drug/alcohol promoting t- shirts requested to be turned inside out. Addressing senior pictures, two of my friends had non-traditional, more casual photos done, one with a fancy t-shirt, hair and makeup, the other, male, wearing his trademark hoody yet still looking somehow philosophical; both were wholly and uniquely them, both were put in the yearbook without incident.

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Earth to Utah first lady photo

Although this hyper modest, hyper conservative clothing trend is nothing new; since her husband’s coming into office, First Lady Michelle Obama has been hounded by controversy surrounding her tendency to wear various forms of fashionable sleeveless attire, from ball gowns to business casual. A 2012 poll encompassing states like South Carolina, Virginia saying she did not look or act like a first lady because she wore sleeveless dresses and did pushups the floor; never mind it is good to exercise and it might have been part of the first lady’s let’s move campaign to counteract childhood obesity, as is the well-publicized footage of her with a group of children having fun with hula-hoops. What were they expecting Abigail Adams; were they really surprised a first lady, almost 20 years younger than the wildly popular Laura Bush, has a younger, updated style?  Plus no one is saying Mrs. Obama did not have the figure to pull off what she was wearing, her arms were flabby, veined, wrinkled; the Virginia voter interviewed by the Huffington Post thought it disrespectful of the White House for her to do pushups, wear shorts on vacation; harkening back to the Kennedy era from a voter arguably old enough to favor the bathing suite fashions worn by granny in the Bugs Bunny and Tweety cartoons circa 1940-1950. Amidst a shaky economy, horrific job losses, global unrest, a touted obesity epidemic, it quickly became the other right to bear arms in America; the right to bare arms, to tastefully expose your shoulders, oh the horror. Lining up on a national scale with what this school did on a local one generating things for people to care about, be upset about, claim the world is going to hell in a hand basket over that really don’t matter in the much bigger scheme of things spawning succinct opinions such as, “conservatives believe in small government except when it comes to enforcing self-righteous morality. These pictures that were altered were completely appropriate. However, some do-gooder decided they might help their odds of getting into heaven if they applied some holier than thou, completely subjective editing to something that was already appropriate to begin with.” Hints why victim advocates and sexual assault specialists have added their voice to goings on in Utah highlighting the negative message sent to girls, women slut shamed for their clothing, victim blamed if they are raped because of their attire and the consequences of broadening that to bare shoulders and sleeveless shirts. Let’s likewise have a realistic discussion surrounding tattoos, work clothing and the ability to get/keep a job in the American workforce today when your fitness for a job is determined by your walking gate, condition of your teeth, whether or not you wear glasses, when you can be fired today for being too sexy as one bank employee found out; off their supposed company dress code, at least for her, pencil skirts, tailored, skirted business suites let go in spite of her bringing business into the bank, being popular among customers. How about the dental assistant fired as a threat to her boss’ marriage via her attractiveness, not her actions, even though she viewed him in the light of a father figure, mentor, not a romantic interest of any kind?  And the state supreme court upheld the boss’ decision because there was no law, no precedent saying he couldn’t do so. We all heard about the man fired for the football tie he wore to work after his team’s super bowl win; that’s right, a football tie not to be confused with something sexual, gross, denoting alcohol or cannabis, a football tie. Long story short, there are so many other needless obstacles to employment than one girl’s affirmation tattoo. Independent of how many, whose style is so much a part of who they are, they get jobs at Fila and FUBU in order to wear their baggy pants, gain employment at Hot Topic, Spencer’s Gifts where their inked bodies and odd shirts depicting things most have never heard of are not out of place, do clerical tasks at tattoo shops, maybe our young woman will take her tattoo into the casual, business attired world and change the perception on tattoos using the same fight and tenacity she went after her school with.

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What’s next a burka is not as flippant, over-reactive a question as you might think when considering the first lady of the United States can’t show bare shoulders, obviously toned arms without the modesty police having a hissy fit, people so ignorant of state/local law they are completely unaware of fluctuations on when you can get a tattoo, too busy calling it illegal. Flabbergasting, how many thought the solution to our wayward school was shove kids into uniforms, while drudging up their own experiences from some 40, 50 60 years ago where students had to shine shoes, tuck in shirts, girls couldn’t wear pants, skirts had to come to the knee, jeans were too casual and boys hair couldn’t be past the collar. In school pictures guys wore white shirts, probably a tie, and girls wore tasteful white sweaters and someone was on hand with an ugly one if they tried to flout the so called modesty standard, virtually laughing these girls dare complain, not getting old fuddy-duddies to remove their minds from the gutter, dare ask what pervert potential pedophile has a problem regarding bare shoulders. Seeming to forget the 1960’s counter culture was a direct result of the conformity that nearly drove the country to madness the previous decade, that the madness of  60’s was an outgrowth of the oppressive 50’s, how much alcohol abuse and domestic abuse permeated the those years as people were unable to cope with conformity. Seeming to ignore the feminist movement happened in the 1970’s to liberate women from far more than wage discrimination, employment restriction to so called women’s work but the entire double standard including what clothing was deemed decent to be one a woman’s body, even while recounting sit in, civil disobedience like protests launched by students demanding they be able to wear casual, comfortable wear at school, essentially on their own time since the school did not have a uniform requirement. What’s next, be it a burka or something else, is not an outrageous question considering parallel erroneous decisions schools have made calling a kindergartener’s Mohawk a distraction simultaneously letting a coach and his team keep ones done in the name of school spirit housed in the same district, a school who suspended a young girl for violating the uniformity clause in their dress code by shaving her head to support her friend with cancer. It goes even deeper when we recognize schools aren’t the only place this is happening, or places traditionally carrying dress codes i.e. upscale restaurants, but to ordinary citizens walking down the street. Active campaigns to ban the wearing of pajamas in public, successful bans on baggy pants, thong underwear and see through clothing, flip-flops on White House tour groups, taking into account the college to ban tank tops was in India or that people in Iran went to jail for dancing to an American pop song about being happy because woman dared wear tasteful modern dress, be in the company of a man not her husband, not a male relative while dancing to an inspirational uplifting song. That’s where they ban the clothing on your body, personal freedom to dance, half way across the globe, not in the United States of America.

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About Natasha Sapp

Proclaiming an edgy voice of reason to America,while bringing back the common sense to social issues.

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