School pictures are as much a part of our school calendar as homework, assemblies, and Country Market Day.
And our 5th graders have been through the routines of getting class and individual pictures for some six years: Line up. Sit here. Stand there. Smile. Head up. Chin down. Say cheese.
This past September, my class went through the steps of getting their pictures taken outside on the Big Toy, following the instructions of the photographers.
The students noticed something different in the posing instructions this year.
“The boys were asked to put their hands on their chins in a ‘thinking pose,’ while the girls were not,” Sadie Foer reported to me and her friends after she had finished her pictures and we were waiting in the cool morning sun.
“Do they think that girls don’t like to think?” asked Asha Adiga-Biro, clearly agitated.
Others reported that the girls were asked to push their hair to one side and pose in a certain way, to put their fingers in belt loops, to pop their hips to one side or the other. The boys shared how strange they had felt during their sessions as well.
As we finished up our snack that morning and the conversation continued, Nell Cox suggested, “We should write a letter to let the company know the problem with the poses their photographers suggested!”
Katie Keeley opened up her Chromebook and the letter writing began.
Our students’ words worked. In November, the owner of the photography company contacted the School, asking for a meeting with the students to discuss their concerns. When I shared this news with the letter writers, they promptly began planning their presentation points. We also met with Lower School counselor Meryl Heyliger to discuss options, helping to refine their thinking and ready discussion points.
The meeting with the owner of the photography company went well. The owner and her lead photographer met with the four students, Meryl, and me, and they were very open to what each student had to say. She explained that she had never received any feedback from students before regarding the way that they are instructed to pose.
The students made a point of expressing their concern and discomfort with being told to pose in “overly feminine” poses: “We don’t think gender should have anything to do with the way we pose for our photographs.”
When the owner asked the girls to show ways that they WOULD like to pose, Asha flexed her muscles and held her arms up at right angles, and said, “Like this!”
My students walked in my door in the fall ready to spot injustice when it appeared—thanks to the amazing work of their teachers over the years at the GDS Lower School. Not only were they prepared to stand up for themselves and their identities, their energy, ideas, intelligence, creativity, empathy, and morality were on full display. The best thing I could do for the kids was to share my enthusiasm and provide any support they needed—but mostly just get out of their way and watch them make a difference.