When Kaitlyn Juvik was called into a vice principal’s office on May 25 for not wearing a bra to Helena High School – something she had done all year long – several hundred classmates quickly stepped up to offer the Montana teen their, um, support, including several boys who strapped bras on over their shirts.
Within days of being told she was in violation of the school’s dress code, Kaitlyn, 18, a senior who recently graduated, was an Internet sensation, with a “No Bra, No Problem” Facebook page and a new nickname: “Kaitlyn the Braless Warrior.”
Now the teen says the time is right for other young women to peel off the underwire, take a stand and start a national discussion about “the body shaming and sexualizing of women.”
“Boys always get the excuse about their hormones, that ‘boys will be boys,'” Kaitlyn tells PEOPLE, “but instead, perhaps people should start teaching boys not to sexualize women’s bodies. Wearing a bra is a personal choice. It’s my body. Why is it anybody else’s business whether I’m wearing a bra, especially when I’m covered up and dressed appropriately?”
Kaitlyn, who says that she had gone braless for more than a year after deciding that brassieres were too restrictive and uncomfortable, was shocked when she was told to step into an administrator’s office one week before graduating.
“I was told that a male teacher had complained he was uncomfortable because I wasn’t wearing a bra, and I was told to find something to cover up with,” says the teen, who was wearing nipple stickers beneath a dark and loose off-the-shoulder T-shirt.
“When I left the office, I was so upset that I posted a picture of what I was wearing on Facebook, telling everyone, ‘If any of you are curious, this is the shirt I was wearing when I was called out.’ I most definitely wasn’t wearing anything against the dress code,” she tells PEOPLE.
The Helena High School handbook doesn’t specify that female students have to wear bras, but the school’s principal Steve Thennis says that regardless of the rules, Kaitlyn has “created a manufactured crisis.”
“I’m done talking about it other than to say this wasn’t the mass protest that everybody has made it out to be,” he tells PEOPLE. “Kaitlyn can continue to tell her side of the story, but I’ve spent enough time on this.”
Thennis told Montana’s KTVH News, “I’m not going to check students’ undergarments. We are going to ask them to dress appropriately and if we feel it is inappropriate, male or female, we are going to ask them to cover up.”
Kaitlyn’s mother, Tami Juvik, 42, who runs a nail salon in Helena, says that her daughter was already covered up when she was “singled out” by administrators.
“She and several of her friends had gone braless all year and they always make sure they’re appropriately dressed,” she tells PEOPLE. “The school has bigger fish to fry than whether my daughter is wearing a bra. I’m proud of Kaitlyn for standing up for herself and opening the door to start a discussion about the body shaming and sexualizing of women.”
After Kaitlyn was told to wear a bra, one of her classmates, Brooke Lanier, created the Facebook group “No Bra, No Problem,” to support her friend, and about 300 female Helena High students went braless to school on May 27 in protest, joined by several male students who wore bras.
“The problem here should not have been Kaitlyn’s attire, but the morality of the male teacher,” says Brooke, 18. “As generations have progressed and women can now wear pants, I hope our movement will help our generation progress to equal treatment of male and female breasts and further gender equality in general.”
Samuel Tinsley, 17, says he was compelled to join Kaitlyn’s crusade “because every male who is for equality and fighting for what is right should step out of the shadows,” he tells PEOPLE.
“I thought that the administration falsely dress-coding her and telling her to cover up was an inappropriate and immature request,” he says, “because the outfit was no problem. When I heard they were trying to impose on Kaitlyn’s self expression, it really irritated me. By making her change or go home to put on appropriate clothing, they’re basically saying that a boy’s education is more important than hers.”
Now that Kaitlyn has graduated from high school (she was braless under her white gown), she plans to attend cosmetology school in Spokane, Wash., and continue to speak out as the “Braless Warrior.”
And it’s a safe bet that when she starts a summer job this weekend at a local snow cone shack, a certain undergarment won’t be part of her attire.
“I feel suffocated wearing a bra,” she tells PEOPLE. “So anybody who has a problem with that should just look the other way and get over it.”