The Next Great Scandal: Photoshopped Modesty

3 ¼ min

There’s a new censorship scandal afoot: it involves school yearbook pictures, a little too much skin, and some lousy Photoshop skills.

Blond, smiling ninth-grader Riley O’Keefe was one of the “victims” of some aggressive photoshopping of her yearbook pictures by high school administrators. O’Keefe’s original school picture featured a gray sweater over a low-cut black tank top that exposed her cleavage. That scoop-neckline became straight, covering O’Keefe’s chest. She was incensed as she found that dozens of other girls had also had their chests photoshopped out.

Some of the girls felt “sexualized and exposed” by the digital alterations, The New York Times reported. O’Keefe said the school should “recognize that it’s making girls feel ashamed of their bodies.”

O’Keefe’s response may seem natural in the modern world of liberated sexual self-expression. But it also shows how upside down and confused that same sexualized self-expression is: modesty standards are now considered a form of sexual exploitation.

These young girls seem rather confused, not realizing that they are simply parroting society’s textbook answers, which really don’t fit their situation. The opposite of their claims is true, for how can girls feel sexualized and exposed when those photo alterations were performed in order to eliminate the very exposure that can sexualize them?

The confused indignation of these girls would likely come as no surprise to family physician, psychologist, and author Dr. Leonard Sax. In his book Girls on the Edge, Sax explored some of the challenges, fears, and concerns young women are dealing with today, and one of these issues is modesty.

Sax credited feminist author Germaine Greer’s 1970 book The Female Eunuch for creating this problem, saying that Greer’s “main assertion—that female modesty is a consequence and manifestation of the patriarchy—has achieved the status of established fact in contemporary gender studies.” He continued:

The corollary—that female immodesty is a sign of liberation—is now widely accepted. Girls today are coming of age in a culture in which teenage girls strip off their clothes at the beach or compete in wet T-shirt contests for the amusement of teenage boys. What’s especially weird about those competitions is that both the girls and the boys seem to believe that the girls’ parading their unveiled bodies is somehow modern, hip, and contemporary.

Thus it comes as no surprise that the girls with the doctored yearbook photos would view themselves as sexualized and exposed, for the ideas advanced by Greer’s feminism have infiltrated society and turned the concept of modesty on its head, labeling true sexualization of women as a good thing, while labeling modest standards of dressing as oppressive. Sax explains:

By chastising feminine modesty as a symptom of patriarchal oppression, Greer provided support to the idea that pole dancers are liberated women. Her argument became so intrinsic to contemporary feminism that many people today don’t even know where it came from. If you even hint at an objection to ‘Girls Gone Wild,’ you may find yourself labeled as a reactionary who favors a 1950s style patriarchy.

From what I’ve seen from headlines, pretty much everyone is up in arms against the school that doctored the yearbooks to remove cleavage. I just wonder if we’re barking up the wrong tree, for as Sax implies, the more we preach liberation through minimal clothing, the more damage we will be doing to our daughters’ minds and bodies.


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Image Credit: 

Bartram Trail High School Yearbook via The New York Times

Annie Holmquist

Annie Holmquist

Annie Holmquist is the editor of Intellectual Takeout. When not writing or editing, she enjoys reading, gardening, and time with family and friends.

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If only these girls knew that modesty is desirable sexual exploitation is dangerous. I wish they understood the more they are desired for their body less the importance is placed on their minds or personality. Not to mention the school yearbook is obligated to up hold the school's dress code. Come on girls! The yearbook is doing you a favor! Guarding modesty is protecting you.


Forgive me for being old fashioned. Bad enough these children don’t understand the nature of deviant sexual predators. It seems that Mom is cheering this child on to “stand up for her rights”. To make matters worse, they have now spilled their names and pictures for all of the monsters to see. Are any of these social justice warriors aware that they may have put their daughters in the crosshairs ? I pray not....


Well I'm definitely no SJW - in fact old fashioned enough to remind us that the bikini goes back to immediate post war times. There's nothing intrinsically sexual about cleavage for god's sake indeed there isn't really even anything explicitly sexual about breasts. Only our politicized bodily hysteria makes it so. The girls are correct in seeing that doctoring photos in this way in the name of modesty does indeed contribute to sexualizing of the body.
Phil M.
Just noticed this article and picture over at The Imaginative Conservative: My opinion (which could be changed) is that culture plays a bigger role than merely dress or dress codes.


This is surely dangerously close to apologetics for rape culture. No post Victorian citizen surely could find the photo above in its original form offensive? Why then might anyone think it would be necessary to doctor such a photo? Ah yes - to protect the young women. But though it might seem odd to count 'dressing' them in this way as sexualizing, that's just what it is; telling them that certain non sexual bodily zones are to be construed as sexual. And telling that to men too who might be all too keen to objectify and sexualize women thus. Which amounts to making women accountable for how men see them. Thus promoting and ratifying one of the very pillars of sexism in society which in 2021 we ought to be busy demolishing.


For every action there is a reaction. Now I don't know if the school told the photographer to edit all the cleavage shots or the photographer did it due to their beliefs. Whatever the reasons, the pictures that were published we not the true authentic selves of each of the ladies. A part of them was erased. Now what I do know is our culture has a strong sense of individualism and self-expression. To take that away is oppressive. Who wants to have that in an individualistic society? No one. The public will react to this perceived injustice against the individual. I wonder if the public will have strong reactions if the photographer edited every pimple on every face. Our society is very vain and puts high value on perceived physical perfection. I can see people being happy about that edit. But the edit of the bosoms of females I can see illicit pains of the past caused by patriarchy and females who were not perceived as having physical beauty and people trying to protect women from becoming pregnant without having resources and a plan to raise that child in a healthy and safe manner.


Wrong. No part of them was "erased". The PS modificatioins merely placed a covering over certain parts, just as if the subjects in the photo had worn a garment providing more cover, and probably more in keeping wiht school dress codes. Taking your premise to extreme, students could pose full front naked, and editing would mean "a part of them was erased". Nope, Not erased, just covered up. As should be. You seem to condone the body shows at some bars.... parading their "assets" for amusement
Gilgamesh Jones
I disagree. I’m in support of public dress codes, speed limits, noise ordinances, age of consent, etc. We need to draw lines somewhere in a civilized society.