What do you do when your image isn’t yours to control anymore? As artists, that moment can come when you move beyond art for art’s sake, into the realm of art as career. It’s a question teens in two countries are asking themselves in the wake of recent news stories that reflect individuality being threatened in the name of propriety.
In Utah, officials at Wasatch High School apologized for tampering with yearbook photos. Several students noticed that their images had been doctored to hide tattoos, or to add or lengthen sleeves. Yearbook staffers had allegedly admonished students that anything in violation of the dress code might be edited, but a lack of consistency in that process left some students feeling like they had been singled out.
In Quebec, teen Lindsey Stocker has taken her school to task for criticizing her clothing style. Stocker believes chastising a woman about her dress amounts to supporting a ‘rape culture,’ where women are taught to feel ashamed of their bodies.
The writer of that article over at the National Post begins by questioning why the school is more concerned with image and dress codes, than its high drop-out rate and problematic cyber-bullying. According to said article, Stocker’s reaction to being cited and feeling bullied in front of her class was to print out posters which said, “Don’t humiliate her because she is wearing shorts. It’s hot outside. Instead of shaming girls for their bodies, teach boys that girls are not sexual objects.”
This is not an easy issue to debate. On the one hand, it seems reasonable to enforce a dress code in learning environments. Crazy outfits could be deemed distracting to other students. However, it is difficult to argue with the strong opinions of the students in both these cases. Their outfits do not need to change – people’s attitudes toward them do. Youth are particularly prone to expressing their individuality with their physical appearance.
As young people become more aware of their images, both in their online ‘brand’ from social media and their physical presence, they learn to take control of them at an earlier age. Hopefully, this will lead to them being better able to cope with the objectification that so obviously continues to hound them. As artists, we have to ask ourselves if this amounts to training teens at an early age to accept censorship.