A suburban high school plans to review its dress code after a student was told that the off-the-shoulder sweater she wore for her portrait was not appropriate for the yearbook.
Grace Goble, 17, is an incoming senior at Maine South High School in Park Ridge.
Last week, she contacted the photography studio that took her senior photos in June, only to discover that the shots of her in a yellow sweater with a neckline below her shoulders were not approved for use.
Goble said she was told she would need to retake the photos, as her outfit violated the school’s dress code that requires students' shoulders to be covered.
"Students are expected to wear opaque clothing that covers them from shoulder to approximately mid-thigh," the dress code reads in part. "For example, students shall not wear halter tops, garments with thin straps, or strapless garments. Garments that are 'see-through,' cut low, or exposes one’s midriff are not acceptable."
"I've always noticed that the dress code at my school is enforced a lot more for girls," Goble said.
"It has always bothered me, and I don't know why it took me so long to say anything about it," she continued, adding that she had missed class "a few times in middle school" after her shorts had been deemed "too short."
With that in mind, Goble decided instead to email school administrators to question the decision, as well as create an online petition on Change.org to "end the over-sexualization of young women's bodies" and amend the policy.
"I have spent a good majority of my life wondering why exactly women's shoulders are so offensive," she wrote. "It is ridiculous that young women aren't allowed to wear the clothing that they wish to wear simply because it could possibly distract someone."
"Why must young women be denied the ability to express themselves through their fashion simply because there may be a few people out there who cannot control themselves?" Goble asked. "Shaming women for wearing the things that make them feel comfortable and happy in their bodies is horribly sexist, and leads many girls to grow up believing that if another individual cannot control their actions around women, that the woman was at fault."
"It is astounding to me that this issue comes up again and again, and not much seems to be done about it. Do not force any more girls to grow up being taught that they must hide their bodies because others cannot control themselves," her petition ended.
Goble said she told Maine South's principal, Dr. Ben Collins, that she would retake the photos if necessary, but she "wanted to do something that would actually have the potential to make a difference."
As a student subject to rules set by administrators, Goble acknowledged she was "not in a position of power" and thought a petition would be a good way to firmly and respectfully state her viewpoint.
"I assumed that I would gain some support from my peers [that] agreed with me, which I hoped would make the administrators more ready and willing to listen to what I had to say," she said.
In the week since she posted the petition, it received more than 3,200 signatures and her actions garnered a response from the district.
Collins called Goble that evening to tell her that the school would allow her photo to run in the yearbook, and that he planned to organize a review of the dress code.
Calling the case an "isolated" incident, District 207 spokesman David Beery said he believed the studio was simply trying to act in accordance with the school's policy, and that once Maine South administrators learned of the situation, they reviewed the photo and gave permission to print it.
According to Beery, Collins planned to invite a group of students, including Goble, to examine the district's policy and give their input on changes once the school year begins – an effort Goble said she hopes will make Maine South "a more safe and fair place for everyone."
"High schools have dress codes in place for purposes of students' safety and disruption to learning, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be reviewed and fine-tuned – and we think this is a good opportunity for review," Beery said.
Students also raised concerns about the dress code not being sufficiently gender neutral, according to Beery, who said the policy will be examined from that lens as well.
Goble told Teen Vogue that she was "very happily surprised with the positive reaction" from the principal, who "was extremely understanding and willing to hear my point of view on the topic, and I was extremely grateful for that."
That reaction hasn't been limited to just her community, she added, hoping that the impact of her efforts continues to spread beyond Maine South.
"I've gotten so much positive response from my peers at school as well as people from all over the country," she said.
"The coolest thing for me has been hearing people who tell me that they have had similar experiences at their school, and they didn't say anything for fear of being disrespectful, but then they heard what I did and now they're more likely to stand up for themselves because they have seen what that can do for you."