Finlayson wearing the dress that set off the firestorm. Photo courtesy Kristy Kimball.
When 16-year-old Gabi Finlayson went to Paris with her mother and brother in December, she only bought one thing: a light pink dress with lace overlay that fell just below the knee. She planned to wear it to an upcoming high school dance. “I loved it,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “It reminded me of Audrey Hepburn. It seemed like a classic dress I could wear forever.”
So on Saturday night, the Utah high school junior couldn’t wait to show up at the dance. “Being a 16-year-old girl, it’s hard to find something that makes you feel pretty and when you do, you want to share it,” she says. But instead of feeling like the belle of the ball, Finlayson ended up feeling shamed and embarrassed, she says, when she was asked to cover up her bare shoulders.
“I walked in with my date and my friends and this lady, in front of all my friends, said ‘do you have a shawl you can wear over that?” Finlayson explains. “I didn’t want to make a big scene and I was already embarrassed that she said anything about my outfit, so I went to my car to get my coat. It was humiliating.”
Kimball and Finlayson during their trip to France. Photo courtesy Kristy Kimball
Finlayson says she spent the rest of the evening in the coat, hiding her shoulders, wishing she’d worn something else. “The night I was supposed to feel beautiful and perfect, I was told I wasn’t good enough,” she says.
The Lone Peak High School dress code states, among other guidelines, that “girls’ dresses and tops must have a 2” minimum strap on each shoulder. Shawls, boleros and other shrugs are acceptable if worn over the dress at all times. Cleavage covered.”
Finlayson’s mother, Kristy Kimball, says the dress did in fact conform to the two-inch strap rule, but that that’s beside the point. “That fact that the school singled her out and asked her to cover herself up is shaming her, objectifying her, and making her feel embarrassed about her shoulders, her body,” Kimball tells Yahoo Parenting. “We are sexualizing these girls’ bodies at such a young age, and they’re just bodies.”
Officials at Lone Peak High School didn’t respond to Yahoo Parenting’s request for comment.
The morning after the dance, Kimball posted a photo of her daughter wearing the dress on Facebook. She wrote: “I am very disheartened to learn [Gabi] was shamed at the entrance of the dance and told she couldn’t enter without a sweater or coat to cover her shoulders. Seriously?! She is wearing a perfectly appropriate and classic dress we bought in Paris and somehow because her shoulders were not covered she was body shamed and embarrassed? …. Let’s stop this insanity. Girls bodies are not sexual objects and religious perspectives should not be imposed at a public school. Shoulders are not sexual!!!”
The photo was shared more than 70 times.
Finlayson says the dress code puts the onus on girls to make sure boys don’t have “unclean” thoughts, and calls this treatment a subtler version of victim blaming. “Telling a girl she can’t wear something that makes her feel good because it might make a boy think inappropriate thoughts is so damaging,” she says.
“Any conversation about dressing modestly or inappropriately is inherently sexist. No one has that conversation with boys,” Kimball says. While she doesn’t have high hopes for abolishing dress codes in Utah, the mom of three is hoping this story will spark a larger discussion about objectification. “We need to teach boys, and schools, that bodies aren’t objects. If someone gets aroused because they see my daughter’s human shoulders, that’s an issue that should be addressed with that boy. Don’t shame and blame my daughter.”
Finlayson says she wants girls to know that they should dress from a place of pride and confidence. “I’ve always felt passionately about advocating for girls to feel good about themselves,” she says. “I want girls to realize that no matter what people think of you, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is what you think of yourself. It’s not your responsibility to manage the thoughts and actions of others.”