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Utah students shocked to find school altered their yearbook photos

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HEBER CITY, Utah - A little airbrushing to school pictures can spell big relief, concealing pimples and brightening complexions. But some students at a Utah's Wasatch High School cracked their yearbooks this week to find more than tiny touchups: digital alterations including cap sleeves on their tank tops, raised necklines and in one case, a vanished tattoo.

Several students at the Heber City public school said they've often worn those outfits on campus and never heard from officials that they violated the dress code.

With the digital changes, "I feel like they're shaming you, like you're not enough, you're not perfect," sophomore Shelby Baum said Thursday. Baum's collarbone tattoo reading "I am enough the way I am" was lifted from her photo. She also discovered a high, square neckline drawn onto her black V-neck T-shirt.

Baum said she plans to ask for a refund or a new book with an unaltered photo.

Other students whose photos were doctored said the pictures squelched their right to express their style, and made them feel singled out because school officials have been inconsistent in enforcing the standards.

Students tasked with assembling the yearbook as part of a yearlong class altered photos of at least seven students at Wasatch, which has an enrolment of 1,700. None were boys, the students said.

"When I show my grandchildren, I'm gonna be like, 'Yeah, I went to a high school where we weren't allowed to be who we were,'" said sophomore Rachel Russell, whose shirt sprouted sleeves in her yearbook picture.

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 inconsistent alterations and said they were evaluating the policy on doctoring photos.

KSTU-TV in Salt Lake City first reported the altered photos Wednesday. Heber City, population 12,000, is about 40 miles east of Salt Lake City.

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 ignore the same guidelines.

The Wasatch School District dress code mentions 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 feel like outsiders 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 Granite School District, one of the state's largest, also require covered shoulders, district spokesman Ben Horsley said. Alpine School District bans halter tops and tank tops.

Other Utah districts say they regularly send students home if they show up for yearbook pictures dressed inappropriately, and give them an option to come back for another shoot. They say they do not do alter the photos.

Holly Mullen, executive director of the Rape Recovery Center in Utah, said the altered photos are an example of cultural shaming of 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.

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