Many of us have had that anxiety dream in which somehow we find ourselves naked at school. And even though it is not real, in our dream state it is mortifyingly embarrassing and deeply upsetting. But turning up to school in the “wrong” outfit can also lead to great distress – and one young girl from Montana knows exactly what that feels like for real.
Vegas is an 11-year-old pupil at Lockwood Schools Eileen Johnson Middle School in her hometown of Billings, Montana. They say that your schooldays are the best days of your life, but not so for Vegas in late September 2017 when she suffered the most terrible day at Lockwood. Unfortunately for her, it was all down to her choice of attire on that fateful day. And while to an outsider it might have looked like a perfectly fine outfit, it wasn’t so in the eyes of some.
September 28, 2017, was picture day at Lockwood. Picture day presents an opportunity for pupils and their families to have a photographic record of particular stages of their education. Naturally, then, students try and look their best for the camera. Which is why young Vegas picked out a brand-new dress to wear – a recent present from her sister.
So, that day, the pupil proudly wore her new gray dress with a pretty pink floral print to school. It was by no means a low-cut or high-hemmed item, either. Indeed, it featured a high neck, and the length of the garment reached down to the knee. To appear even more demure, Vegas had also tastefully chosen to accessorize her outfit with opaque black leggings.
Vegas and her family considered her suitably ready to have her school picture taken, then, but unfortunately not everyone was of the same opinion. All of a sudden, the young girl was pulled aside, and members of the school staff told her that she was not wearing appropriate clothing for the pictures. For her part, the confused pupil simply couldn’t understand what she had done wrong.
According to Vegas’ grandmother, Sandra Lynn Beeler Darling, the little girl was cited for a dress-code violation; Darling claimed the minor was found guilty of “showing her shoulders.” She went on to say that Vegas had previously attended school baring her shoulders and never been called up for it. But it seems that on this particular day she wasn’t going to get away with it.
Confusingly, though, the staff members did allow Vegas to appear in the pictures wearing the dress that had been deemed inappropriate. However, after the shots had been taken, staff called her parents. The school then asked them to bring in different clothes for their little girl to wear for the rest of the day.
The whole experience was very upsetting for Vegas, who was presumably excited to wear her new dress to school that morning. And unfortunately, she was so distraught when her outfit was called into question that she burst into tears. Thankfully, at least, Vegas’ grandmother was on hand to comfort the upset schoolgirl, and she captured her emotional reaction in a photograph.
Feeling outraged by the school’s actions, Darling then uploaded the picture of her granddaughter in tears to Facebook. The grandma also accompanied the photograph with a caption that inspired sympathy among her friends on the social media site. And it didn’t take long before the photograph of the devastated Vegas in her supposedly controversial dress attracted even more attention.
The caption on the Facebook post read, “My beautiful granddaughter Vegas got dress coded today, her sister bought her this dress and they told her to change it because it was distracting. It was picture day and she wanted to look cute; she is 11.” Then Darling addressed her problem with the school’s attitude.
“If you or your kids think it is distracting, don’t look at her,” Darling wrote, suggesting that it was the school which was firmly in the wrong. The grandmother’s argument was that the staff at Lockwood were “body shaming” Vegas for baring her shoulders. “I had to talk to her – she was crying,” Darling continued. “Vegas said that she does not want to talk about it because it still upsets her.”
The photograph of the sobbing 11-year-old schoolgirl soon went viral and garnered thousands of reactions and shares on Facebook. A large number of the online community were just as outraged as Darling, too. Many wrote damning comments about what they saw as Lockwood’s over-zealous enforcement of its dress code.
Plenty of Facebook users thought there was nothing inappropriate about the young girl’s shoulders being on show. “I don’t understand why this dress would be distracting. And it’s well below her finger tips. That’s ridiculous. I would argue this as a parent,” one bewildered commenter posted.
However, others in the Facebook thread didn’t put it so kindly. “That’s messed up” and “Have they lost their minds?” were just two of the messages left underneath the photograph of poor Vegas in tears. Darling also chose to reply to many of the angry comments, which kept the contentious discussion alive.
And when one diplomatic Facebook user then suggested that Vegas should have brought a cardigan to school to cover her shoulders, Darling had other ideas. “I am going to send her a few of them,” the furious grandmother responded. “Then I am making her a witch dress; that will give them something to think about.”
The thing that seemed to anger Darling the most was that, to her, Vegas is not the type of child who would try to seek attention by dressing outlandishly. Speaking to the Yahoo Lifestyle online magazine in October 2017, the grandmother explained how Vegas is a fairly modest girl.
“She does not think that boys even look at her!” Darling said, adding that “shoulders are just shoulders! What’s the big deal?” She also made a bold statement about Lockwood’s approach to gender politics. She argued that if the boys at the school regarded shoulders as distractingly sexual, something was wrong. Her reasoning was that they, not Vegas, should be the ones pulled up by the school authorities.
However, staff at Lockwood Schools Eileen Johnson Middle School have so far remained tight-lipped about the episode. And yet by not commenting on the decision to ask Vegas to change outfits, they have nevertheless sent out a clear message: that they consider rules to be rules and that no child is exempt from them – no matter how pretty the dress.
The reason why educational establishments have dress codes is primarily to look after the interests of their pupils as well as to protect the outward image of the given school. By establishing a standard that must be met by every child, schools ensure that children are still allowed to express their identity – but within approved parameters.
Unfortunately, though, school dress codes seem to represent a highly contentious issue that can easily wind up parents and other guardians. To avoid clashes over appropriate attire, then, the school in question might consider enforcing a school uniform. But no doubt there would be plenty of kids who would object to that, too – even on picture day.