Modesty no excuse for altering yearbook photos

Friday , May 30, 2014 - 10:51 AM

Smile and say “Cheesy.”

Administrators at a high school in Heber City have been taking heat for digitally altering the photographs of some of their female students.

Last week, several students at Wasatch High School complained to the media after opening their yearbooks and finding that they weren’t wearing what they thought they’d worn on school picture day. Apparently, someone involved with the yearbook digitally altered a few of the students’ portraits, adding computer-generated sleeves to cover bare shoulders, as well as higher necklines to cover ... well, I suppose the lower parts of necks. And in at least one case, a student’s tattoo — ironically reading “I am enough the way I am” — was digitally removed.

All this, done in the name of “modesty.”

Emotions have been running high on both sides of the issue. Some folks view these digital alterations as taking a stand against loosening morals. Others claim it’s an attempt by the “Utah Taliban” to put all women in burkas.

Well, all I have to say about modesty-gate is this: “Where were these people when I really needed them, back in the mid-1970s?”

Not that I ever dressed immodestly, but I was a skinny, awkward, shy teenager with bad hair, a slight case of acne and a complete lack of social skills. All of which showed up in yearbook pictures. Back then, I could have desperately used some Photoshop love to make my cherished school memories look a bit more like “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and a lot less like “Revenge of the Nerds.”

As fun as it is to argue about whether a high school student wearing a sleeveless blouse in a yearbook picture could be considered soft-core porn, there’s a bigger issue here. It’s not decency vs. indecency, but whether or not we should be digitally altering photographs in the first place. Sure, you could argue that, like any technology, it can be used for good — fixing a bad-hair day, clearing up that acne, adding eyeballs to someone who blinked at the wrong moment. But in the end, there are those of us who believe altering photographs is just plain wrong.

A photograph, by its very nature, implies that it is capturing an actual moment in time. And digitally adding clothing to subjects in a photograph — especially without their consent — presents an inaccurate and misleading view of that reality. If I have a son or daughter who is on the husky side, should we consider using digital manipulation to make that child look just a little bit thinner in a school photograph?

It’s hard to imagine anyone thinking that digitally retouching the Wasatch High School yearbook photographs, for whatever reason, was a good idea. If these young women were indeed breaking the school’s modesty code — which includes “covering shoulders, midriff, back, underwear, and cleavage at all times” and bans “inappropriately short, tight, or revealing shorts, skirts, dresses, tank shirts, halter or crop tops, spaghetti straps, etc.” — it should have been addressed when the photographs were taken, not in post-production.

Oh, and for the record? Back in 1976, the senior yearbook photos at my Utah high school featured the females in these ridiculous-looking feather boa-type dresses, many of which were worn low enough to show off completely bare shoulders. Frankly, it made them look like some sort of odd poultry.

I can only imagine what Wasatch High administrators would have done to THOSE photos. Probably digitally cover them up the rest of the way with feathers, making them resemble the San Diego Chicken mascot.

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SEMarkSaal.

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