Florida High School Leaves Teen Girls Feeling Sexualized After Editing Their Yearbook Photos

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High School

A controversy surrounding a Florida high school's yearbook is stirring up debates about sexism in school dress codes.

Bartram Trail High School is facing backlash after a teacher who serves as the school's yearbook coordinator digitally edited yearbook pictures of female students to cover up portions of their chests and shoulders in an effort to make the girls' clothing choices appear more modest.

Why were more than 80 teen girls' yearbook pictures photoshopped by a teacher at Bartram Trail High School?

The editing was done without the permission of the students after teacher Anne Irwin determined the girls outfits violated the school’s dress code, which states shirts "must be modest and not revealing or distracting."

Students say over 80 photos were edited, all featuring female students, and expressed that the edits left them feeling sexualized and exposed.

Additionally, because the edits were done poorly and make the photos look awkward, girls who's image were retouched say they have been teased by other students.

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School district spokesperson Christina Langston told The St. Augustine Record the edits were made with the intention of allowing students in violation of the code to be included.

"Bartram Trail High School’s previous procedure was to not include student pictures in the yearbook that they deemed in violation of the student code of conduct," she said, "so the digital alterations were a solution to make sure all students were included in the yearbook."

The edits highlight the disturbing ways in which girls and women are sexualized and their bodies are deemed inappropriate for viewing.

In an attempt to make their appearance more “appropriate,” the school inadvertently sexualized the teens.

Such edits reflect the troubling view held by many schools and teachers that the bodies of female minors are somehow inherently sexually suggestive and in need of covering up.

The St. Johns County school district’s dress code warns students against wearing “immodest, revealing, or distracting” clothing.

But with female students being the most common targets for breaches of the code, it’s clear that these kinds of rules become a means to shame young girls.

The subjective nature of this dress code leaves women vulnerable to individual teacher’s perceptions of what is “immodest” and implies that an individual’s right to wear what they want should be discounted in favor of another person’s “distraction.”

“They need to recognize that it’s making girls feel ashamed of their bodies,” said Riley O’Keefe, a 15-year-old student at the school who has been pushing back against the school’s restrictive dress code for months.

When she opened her copy of the yearbook, she found a black bar had been added to her chest in order to cover more skin.

“They’re all good students, and we’re going to focus on whether you have too much shoulder showing?” O’Keefe’s mother said. “It’s out of control.”

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The editing of these yearbook photos with the consent of either the girls or their parents exposes a double-standard in school dress codes.

Students pointed out that male students show skin throughout the yearbook but remain unedited, including boys on the swim team shown wearing only their swimming briefs.

Gender imbalance of this nature has been an ongoing issue at the school.

School staff have been known to carry out “sweeps” where female students are taken out of class for breaching the dress code.

Even male students have been outraged by the practice and protested in solidarity with the girls in March by wearing skirts and dresses to school.

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“Some guys were wearing crop tops and tied up their shirts and didn’t get dress coded, which is crazy,” O’Keefe said at the time.

She has started a petition to change the dress code at the school in order to rectify this imbalance, and the St. Augustine school board has said they will create a committee to consider the matter.

The rules have created a culture at the school where a girl can be scolded and punished at a moment’s notice for simply wearing a dress while boys continue their education unfettered.

These comments or criticisms might appear insignificant, but they have the power to chip away confidence and self-worth.

Their bodies become subject to arbitrary rules and regulations that are out of their control, leaving them with little autonomy.

School dress codes are a playground for oppressive gender stereotypes.

Restrictive dress codes have also become a way of oppressing transgender students and male students who don’t conform to old-fashioned gender roles.

In 2020, a transgender girl in Texas was banned from school when she refused to adhere to the male dress code.

Later that same year, a gay teenager was suspended from his Texas school for wearing nail polish in class.

These students weren’t in total breach of the dress code, they just weren’t subscribing to the gendered dress code the schools wanted them to obey. In these cases, dress codes become a means of enforcing archaic gender stereotypes.

The continued protest against dress codes by students of all genders calls into question the function of these rules and who they’re really for.

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Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Catch her covering all things social justice, news, and entertainment. Keep up with her Twitter for more.