Kim Hone-McMahan / Beacon Journal staff writer
ake a cyber-stroll through social network sites like Facebook, and you’ll find thousands of racy photos of teenagers. But when it comes to high school yearbooks, is there any place for those types of sexy shots?
This month, a student editorial board at a school in Durango, Colo., rejected a photo submitted by 18-year-old Sydney Spies. Dressed in a yellow miniskirt and a not-your-grandmother’s-shawl that covers little more than her bosom, she sports plenty of skin and an expression that screams “come hither.”
In hopes of getting a photo approved, she submitted a different sexy picture, clad in a skintight dress — only to have that one rejected as well. Still, Spies told the media that she and her mother are being permitted to buy ad space in the back of the book to run at least one of the pictures there.
Julie Headrick, yearbook adviser at Tallmadge High School, said that neither of Spies’ photos would be permitted anywhere in her school’s yearbook.
“It’s ridiculous to allow it in the back of the book,” added Anna Vassalotti, 18, a member of the Tallmadge yearbook staff. “If they [student editors] are going to say ‘no’ they need to say ‘no’ — regardless of where it is in the book.”
To address the controversy surrounding her picture, Spies created a Facebook account, where you can see the photos. In the posts, she defines the rejection of her photos as censorship.
“Let me make this clear. This is not about a picture anymore,” Spies wrote on her Facebook page. “This is about standing up for our rights as citizens of the United States.”
With social networks that allow kids to display photos, many have taken to posting pictures of themselves that are often remarkably revealing. So what’s a yearbook staff to do?
The first step, according to Headrick, is to have rules in place.
Mike Gates, 17, people editor for Tallmadge’s yearbook, said his school’s profile picture standards call for a traditional portrait void of hands, props and “goofy faces.” And if a questionable picture is submitted by a student, the staff can remind them of the standards.
“We ran into a problem last year where there was a picture with a little too much cleavage. So, we talked to the girl and asked her to replace the picture,” Gates said. The girl had other portraits that were more appropriate.
Like Tallmadge, most schools in Northeast Ohio have set standards for yearbook photos, said Jim Barbour of Herff Jones Yearbooks.
“Some schools even require that the yearbook portrait be taken by a school-designated photographer, who, as part of the service package, may offer a yearbook portrait for no charge to assure that all seniors are included,” Barbour said.
“Portrait pages are not the place for self-expression,” he added. “Often the yearbook staff must make decisions that protect those represented in the yearbook. Sometimes that includes protecting people from themselves.”
But what if a student doesn’t care about the rules and insists that the photographer take provocative portraits anyway? While that can happen, it’s much less frequent than folks might expect, local photographer Ken Love said.
“I can only remember a couple girls in about 300 senior shoots that were wearing clothes and posing in ways I personally deemed not what I would want to shoot for a senior photo shoot,” said Love, a former Beacon Journal photojournalist. “I realize that all these kids want attention and many girls dream of being in Maxim magazine or they dream of being models, and I help with that down the road when they are older, but I do not feel provocative photo shoots for high school students is right and 99.9 percent of parents I deal with would never let that happen.
“As a professional photographer I have a lot of control of the outcome of a shoot and how it looks, and I don’t want my name associated with anything anyone would deem too provocative from a senior photo shoot,” Love continued. “When I saw the [Spies] photos on the news, I was very upset that a high school student was wearing next to no clothes in a high school yearbook photo. I’ve shot sexy model shoots where my models had more clothes on.”
The pages of a yearbook are filled with memories that shaped students’ lives. But over the past few years, pushing yearbooks has at times been a tough sell.
Three years ago, for instance, Barbour said there was a precipitous drop-off in yearbook sales.
“With the schools with whom we work, however, a refocused effort enabled us to recoup from that drop,” he said. “Since that time, yearbook sales have remained steady.”
Such is the case in Tallmadge, where Headrick’s 19 students energetically promote their product — contacting their classmates to let them know that they are pictured in the yearbook and encouraging them to buy.
“One of our goals as a class is to try to picture and quote as many people as we can,” Headrick said. “We believe the yearbook should be representative of the entire school — not just people who are active in sports or active in clubs. There are a lot of students here that do a lot of things outside of school. They are part of the school and curriculum … just as much as anybody else.”
Kim Hone-McMahan can be contacted at 330-996-3742 or email@example.com