HEBER CITY, Utah » A group of Utah high school students said they were surprised and upset to discover their school yearbook photos were digitally altered, with sleeves and higher necklines drawn on to cover bare skin.
Several students at Wasatch High School in Heber City said their outfits were in line with the public school’s dress code, and they’ve worn them on campus many times.
"I was shocked and stunned they would do this and wouldn’t tell me," 16-year-old sophomore Kimberly Montoya said Thursday. "I just feel targeted at this school. I would have been OK if they had asked me."
The girls said having their photos edited to meet modesty standards squelched their right to express themselves through what they wear.
They also said they felt targeted because the standards were not uniformly applied. At least seven others at the 1,700-student school had their photos altered, and none were boys, they said.
"I was pretty angry about it, really, because that’s who we are," said sophomore Rachel Russell, who had sleeves added to her picture. Another sophomore, Shelby Baum, discovered a high, square neckline drawn onto her black V-neck T-shirt, covering a tattoo on her chest.
The Wasatch County School District said in a statement Thursday that students were warned when yearbook photos were taken last fall that images might be altered if students violated dress standards.
"It is understandable that students in violation of the dress code could forget that they received warnings about inappropriate dress," the statement said.
District officials apologized about the alterations being applied inconsistently and said they were evaluating the policy on doctoring photos.
KSTU-TV in Salt Lake City first reported the altered photos Wednesday. The students live in Heber City, which is about 30 miles east of Salt Lake City and has a population of 12,000.
An estimated two-thirds of Utah residents belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which encourages members to practice modesty in how they dress. For women, that includes covering bare shoulders and avoiding low-cut shirts and short skirts and shorts.
The guidelines stem from a belief that bodies are sacred gifts from God, and that God commands people to be chaste. Mormons tend to be uncomfortable with clothing that promotes sexuality due to these beliefs.
Sleeves also cover up the top piece of their temple garments, which resembles a T-shirt. These garments, which Mormons usually start wearing as young adults, are worn underneath regular clothes and serve as a reminder of covenants they make with God.
Church leaders have encouraged young girls in recent years to stay true to modesty standards despite being bombarded with images in popular society that don’t follow the same guidelines.
The Wasatch School District dress code uses the word modesty twice: "Clothing will be modest, neat, clean, in good repair. Modesty includes covering shoulders, midriff, back, underwear and cleavage at all times."
Haylee Nielsen, a 15-year-old sophomore, said students who aren’t Mormon can sometimes feel judged at the school, adding there is big focus on modesty.
Wasatch isn’t the only Utah school to ban bare shoulders. Most of the eight high schools in the Granite School District, one of the state’s largest, also require covered shoulders, district spokesman Ben Horsley said. The Alpine School District has a districtwide ban on halter tops and tank tops.
Holly Mullen, executive director of the Rape Recovery Center in Utah, said the altered photos are an example of our culture shaming young women into believing they must dress and act a certain way.
School dress codes and yearbook photos have long been a source of consternation across the country.
Recently, schools in Illinois and Utah have banned leggings because they are too revealing. In San Francisco, a Catholic high school earlier this month apologized to a student and her family for refusing to include a portrait of the girl wearing a tuxedo in its yearbook.
McCombs reported from Salt Lake City.