Balancing Act

What the shoulder-shamers in Utah should be saying

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Yearbook photos altered

Wasatch High School sophomores Kimberly Montoya and Rachel Russell talk about finding their yearbook photos had been digitally altered, in Heber City, Thursday May 29, 2014. The yearbook photos of several girls at Wasatch High School were digitally altered to cover up skin, with sleeves and higher necklines drawn onto their images. (Trent Nelson / The Salt Lake Tribune / May 29, 2014)

I'm not in the mood to live in the real world this week.

Not when a trial is just getting underway for a man accused of tying up his fiancée (with whom he has a daughter) and her family members in Hoffman Estates before killing three of them and injuring a fourth.

Not when teenage girls are found raped and hanged in India and more than 100 Nigerian schoolgirls remain missing and the police are still sifting through evidence in Elliot Rodger's misogyny-fueled rampage .

I'm certainly not in the mood to read a non-apology from administrators at the Utah high school now infamous for shoulder-shaming. In case you missed it Thursday, Wasatch High School made news when students discovered their yearbook photos had been digitally altered to cover some girls' bare shoulders and clavicles.

School authorities say they were simply enforcing the school's dress code which bans "inappropriately short, tight, or revealing shorts, skirts, dresses, tank shirts, halter or crop tops."

Others didn't see it that way.

"I think the message is there that it's women's jobs to control the way they look, it's males to look the way they want," Salt Lake City's Rape Recovery Center executive director Holly Mullen told a local TV news crew. "I say this all the time: Short skirts, bare arms — they don't cause rape. Rapists cause rape."

"If people out there sat with clients who come to the Rape Recovery Center for services, they would hear very often that this sort of message starts very early," Mullen continued. "They start saying things like, 'If I hadn't worn that dress. If I hadn't had my bra strap showing, if I had looked different, he wouldn't have done this to me.' That's not OK. That is not the kind of behavior we want to be indicating to our children."

The school apologized … for not doing more. Some girls' shoulders were digitally covered, others were not. "In the application of these graphic corrections," the school said in a statement, "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."

Here's what I'm in the mood for. Some clear-eyed, unequivocal leadership from the grown-ups who are shaping — and too often failing — our kids. Some honest dialogue about all the gender nonsense and sexual saturation that girls and boys have to wade through and process every single day.

Here's the statement I'd love to read from Wasatch authorities but, sadly, never will:

"We blew it. We permanently altered one of your most poignant and long-lasting high school mementos (which you or your parents paid for) without your consent and we blamed our actions on a vaguely worded dress code that, frankly, probably needs a second look.

What constitutes inappropriate, anyway? What exactly is a tank shirt? And why does it matter what you wear to school? These are questions we want to discuss with you frankly, honestly and repeatedly. We want your input and we want you to listen to ours.

We know it must leave you feeling more than a little confused to see strong, healthy shoulders digitally blocked out, even as we hand you iPads, laptops and other devices that give you instant access to R-rated material and worse.

We know a lot of you carefully choose your outfits for picture day based on what made you feel confident and stylish. We know a lot of you showed about as much skin as First Lady Michelle Obama in her first official portrait. So yeah, it seems weird that we'd lose our marbles over that.

Anyway, you guys are growing up in a world that can be ugly and dangerous. Not to mention hostile, judgmental, hypocritical and utterly confusing. Our job is to make it less so. Instead we made it more so.

We're going to spend the summer doing some research and outreach with groups who can guide us — and you — toward smarter, better policies. We hope you'll spend some time formulating questions and tips for us too.

Meanwhile, keep taking good care of yourselves and each other. And remember that a person's clothing is never, ever, permission to tease, attack, harass or shame. We're sorry if our own actions showed you otherwise."

That's what I'm in the mood for.

Twitter @heidistevens13

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