"Don’t go shopping showing any cleavage!" I read in an email from my dad. He continued, "The Heber City seniors’ doctored yearbook photos are worldwide news." My dad lives in Tasmania, an island state of Australia that is literally on the other side of the world. What I had experienced for the three years I worked in Heber City at the Wasatch School District had gone global!
My journey to Heber involved marrying a man I met at the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City where I was promoting my company, which provided smart, high-tech, outdoor travel clothing for powerful women. I left home in San Francisco landing in Heber Valley, where I returned to my roots as a speech-language pathologist.
One day, I witnessed the principal of the middle school looking scornfully at the bottom half of an athletic beautiful eighth grade girl telling her to go home and change. Her shorts had a nine inch inseam; two to four inches is cute, and correctly tapered knee-length bermudas can work. In my universe, she needed to go home for wearing frumpy shorts! I knew this shaming would take her down a notch, and she would spend years trying to prove that she was good.
She would abandon her instincts that told her to be true to who she really is. This thought devastated me. Shame is insidious; it operates in a seemingly harmless way but actually has a dangerously grave effect. Here I was, an empowered woman with my master’s degree, from San Francisco; and by the time I finished three years working in Heber City, I felt like the witch of Salem on a good day and a depressive who needed Prozac on the bad. How are young girls going to survive this kind of subtle attack to their power?
I spent years not wearing my company’s best-selling wrap tank top to the grocery store to avoid shameful glares. These girls had split the subversive culture wide open. My neighbor said that word around town is that some of these girls were "the bad girls". When power or sexuality are pushed into the shadows, eventually victims act out and rebel. They carry all the shame and become scapegoats, hence, the label "bad girls".
My neighbor’s brilliant daughter started kindergarten this year. She had a near miss of being sent home for wearing a tank top because her mother was not notified of the dress code. Since when is a tank top deviant behavior? Today, the girl asked what we were talking about. Her mother told her that some of the year book photos had been changed so that if girls’ shoulders were showing, they drew in sleeves. She responded, "That’s bad." Her mom asked, "Why is that bad?" She answered, "It’s bad because you should never draw on someone else’s work."
However, I have hope! Heber City is the fourth largest growing small town in America and has grown in population by 55 percent in the past 10 years. The locals have had to adjust quickly. The school district has made great efforts to address the needs of their growing English language learners. Their tactics to improve literacy are innovative. They instituted an anti-bullying campaign. Now, the final frontier is to understand that reprimanding girls who are wearing clothing considered appropriate attire in most of the country or making them march around in special sweat suits is bullying. I know they will change because, ultimately, these are educators who care about students. And, after they drew on someone else’s work, they apologized.
Karen Schwartz-Clover worked as a speech-language pathologist in Wasatch School District and splits her time between Heber and Kenwood, Calif.
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