The news media can be such a fantastic tool for influencing people and getting issues out there. But the case of Sydney Spies, a high school student with an evening news-ready-made name and look, is not exactly a social justice cause. The Denver area high school senior has had her yearbook photos removed from the publication because they violate the school dress code. The photo, to the right, shows Ms. Spies wearing a skirt, a shawl, a come hither look, and nothing else. In response to the very obvious claim that the photo is too sexy for a school publication, she says that she was merely trying to exercise her freedom of speech.
“Some people might think it’s a little bit sexy or inappropriate. But I think it’s artistic. I think it’s a good expression of who I am as a person,” Spies told 9News. “I’m a dancer, I’m trying to be a model, I really enjoy photography and I think that this is a good thing to represent me and I think they are taking away my freedom of expression.”
You can watch a full local news report on the issue here, complete with photos of her mother and friends in front of the school with picket signs. There is also a news report in the local paper and Spies’ case has made it to the Huffington Post, the LA Times, and other major outlets. What intrigues me about this story? That something intrigues other people about it. How did the very common act of a yearbook staff telling a student what she may or may not wear in her class picture become newsworthy?
When I was in high school the rules were very clear: dress as you would for school or you won’t be in the yearbook. Every year someone did something weird like paint Marilyn Manson’s name on her face or shave off his eyebrows, but the idea of using the school memory book as a launching pad for your modeling career just wasn’t considered. We were constantly battling for freedom of expression — because that’s what teens do — but we also knew our place in the world. The yearbook was a privilege, not a right, and even the biggest rabble-rousers knew that.
Meanwhile the media is already treating Sydney Spies like her case is a new frontier in youth rights and not the precursor to a “young hot blonde girl” reality show that it really is. I wore a sweater vest and a wide-eyed innocent face in my senior class photo, but I’m pretty sure that showing up in nothing but a shawl and a flimsy skirt wouldn’t have gotten me any headlines. The same goes for anyone who doesn’t look like Sydney Spies and has no arousing photo to offer up as accompaniment to her story. The blatant foaming-at-the-mouth mentality that the media has over pretty young white girls is so much more damaging to the lives of women who go missing and don’t happen to be pretty, young, or white. However, the focus on how unfortunate it is that Sydney Spies won’t get to show her goods off to the student body shows that this mentality reaches far and wide.