In My Own Write: When less is more

'Appropriate: right or suitable; fitting [the context or occasion]' – Collins English Dictionary

January 10, 2012 22:27
Sydney Spies in the controversial photo.

SYDNEY SPIES 311. (photo credit: Facebook)

You could dismiss it as part of the flood of trivia that masquerades as news in the US media outlets’ ongoing fight for ratings. But the item about Sydney Spies, the Colorado high school senior whose photo has been banned from the school’s yearbook for showing too much skin, is more than skin-deep.

The photo submitted by the 18-year-old wannabe model to her Durango High School yearbook shows her provocatively posed in a short yellow skirt and skimpy black shawl that leaves her shoulders and midriff exposed.

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The yearbook editors defended their action last week, saying they had a standard to uphold and the student’s attire in the photo violated the school’s dress code. They added that although the photo was unsuitable as a portrait, it could run in a section reserved for paid advertisements. The school principal supported the editors’ decision.

“I think it's artistic,” Spies said to Fox News about the photo, describing herself as a “fun person” and claiming that rejection of the picture violated her freedom of expression. The family is now considering legal action.

IF YOU had to opt for a word that teenage girls really hate to hear their parents use, it might be “inappropriate,” especially when applied to the way teens choose to dress. These adolescents – and today, we’re talking about preteens too – are spreading their wings with a vengeance in every direction they dare, soaking up influences from every available source, experimenting with their appearance, discovering who they are and how they want to express it.

Confronting this all-absorbing drive on the part of their daughters, parents who see them preparing to leave the house in attire they consider too suggestive and who say so, firmly, are in most cases met with deep resentment. They are regarded as a clamp on their daughters’ right to self-expression, as warders trying oh-so-unfairly to imprison them in a silly, outdated and irrelevant mode.

The word “modest” – and I’m talking about the broader community, in Israel as in the West – doesn’t resonate any better with today’s teens. How could it, when the role models for girls are almost exclusively media celebrities who dress and act in the most provocative ways and are cheered for it? IT ISN’T news that contemporary films, TV shows, mainstream magazines and ads, and particularly the fashion industry too often treat women as sex objects, reflected in skimpy and suggestive clothing that would, not that long ago, have been the province of men’s magazines and worn by “working girls.”

The current social environment being what it is, can one blame Sydney Spies and millions of other teens for promoting themselves by exploiting their sex appeal to the utmost? “She’s cute, but she looks like a tart,” commented a male friend who dropped by while I was writing this piece and saw the controversial photo. Considerably older than the subject of the photo, he immediately looked abashed, as if caught out in a lapse of manners or taste.

“She’s certainly seeking attention,” he said, explaining that Spies reminded him of Curley’s new wife, who ‘ain’t concealin’ nothing,’ in John Steinbeck’s 1937 classic Of Mice and Men.

WHEN ASKED if she thought her daughter’s photo was too revealing, Miki Spies confessed to initial reservations, but then said she changed her mind.

“I asked her not to do it at first,” she told MailOnline. “I said, ‘Sydney, is this the [photo] you want?’ But when your child is spreading her wings, you just want to come alongside and support them. That’s what I’m doing as a mother.”

Forgive me, Ms. Spies, but what you are doing “as a mother” isn’t good enough. You aren’t doing Sydney any favors by “coming alongside” and supporting her in her sexy stance.

From the reservations you say you initially felt, I believe you realized deep down that this flaunting, partially undressed pose was inappropriate, both for a school yearbook and for an adolescent still far from the mature woman she has yet to become.

The problem is that many mothers have themselves been seduced by Western culture’s blatant sexualization of females even younger than the Colorado teen, and have thus lost the courage of their already faint convictions. They have become confused about their role as parents.

AS A mother who has raised a daughter, I know how difficult it is to stand your ground in the face of a teen’s overwhelming urge to do something you don’t necessarily approve of. At the risk of sounding preachy, let me say that it takes real emotional strength for a parent to stand firm against all that passion; to hang in there and brave the frustration and tears and anger of your offspring as you block the way to their heart’s desire of the moment.

Elsewhere, I have likened it to mud wrestling. It isn’t clean or pretty; as a parent, you have to get down there in the dirt and fight to keep your end up and your voice heard. Also, you need to start long before the teenage years. (A tip: Humor can be a wonderful and disarming weapon.) From the provocative way so many young Israeli girls dress, it looks as if their parents, far from getting down in the mud, have abandoned the field to the sexualizers before the fight has even begun. And many mothers you see on the streets and buses and in the malls, shopping with their daughters, are themselves wearing clothing that is too tight, too revealing, and – sorry, ladies – aging and unflattering.

I AM certain of two things. The first is that a parent will not lose a child’s love by setting reasonable boundaries regarding dress and other issues in a kind and clear manner, holding fast no matter how much a child storms, pleads or threatens. These responses are, I suspect, a kind of theater via which children test parents’ genuine adherence to the values they are promulgating.

The second thing I am sure about is that it is possible to look cool – or as today’s kids say, “hot” – without looking like a tart, never mind the ads and fashion magazines. But mothers need to internalize this conviction themselves before they can impart it to their daughters.

A SCENARIO that occurred several decades ago has stayed in my mind, perhaps because of its message.

It was the finals of the Miss World competition – I don’t remember the year – and the contestants had already shown off their evening gowns and demonstrated their intellectual prowess in short interviews. They had paraded before the judges in their bathing suits (talk about female sexualization!), and the number was down to six young women, all with lovely faces and beautifully proportioned bodies.

Then it was down to three finalists; and, to cut the story short, the winner was announced. It was a young woman from a South American country – I don’t recall which one.

But I do remember that she was somewhat shorter than the others, and that unlike the other contestants, who had donned bikinis, she sported a one-piece bathing suit with a high neck that showed off her figure to perfection.

Could it be the judges realized what we often suspect, but sometimes forget: that less can be more?

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