DURANGO, Colo. -- 18-year-old Sydney Spies wants a future in modeling, and she figured she would make that clear with her senior picture in her high school yearbook.
But the Durango, Colo., prospective graduate found herself embroiled in controversy when her school's yearbook editors put the kibosh on running a photo of Sydney posing provocatively in a black shawl and short yellow skirt that exposed plenty of skin.
Sydney and her mother Miki Spies are butting heads with the yearbook staff and school administration over a case they believe smacks of censorship, and they appeared live on TODAY Monday to make their case that Sydney should be able to represent herself the way she wants in the annals of her school's history.
"I honestly think (the picture) describes who I am," Sydney told Matt Lauer in an exclusive interview. "I'm an outgoing person and I really do think it's artistic."
Both mom and daughter say they're particularly irked by the school's mixed message when it comes to students showing off their interests in their senior pictures - and that there didn't seem to be a problem with Sydney's photo appearing in the yearbook until last week.
Sydney says she submitted the photo to the yearbook staff, and they approved it shortly before Christmas. But after the school's Christmas break, staff told her the photo was unacceptable. They asked her to submit a second photo, and Sydney agreed; but staff found the image of her wearing a form-fitting, black mesh strapless dress no less racy.
She believes the school brass had a hand in the reversal: "I think it was the administration," she told Lauer. "They had a meeting with the principal and the next day their whole decision changed and completely against me."
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But school yearbook staff say a precedent was set two years ago when the yearbook nixed a photo of a shirtless male student. And editor Brian Jamirillo said the award-winning yearbook has a standard to uphold.
"We didn't want this picture to make our publication seem unprofessional and inappropriate," he told NBC News' Tamron Hall.
Mom Miki has stood by her daughter, even joining her in waving placards in protest outside the school. But she told Lauer that even she had initial misgivings.
"I asked her not to do it," she said. "I said, 'Sydney, really, is this the one you want?'"
But Miki Spies told Hall she now views the photograph through her daughter's eyes. "Now, looking at the picture, I see it the way Sydney sees it. It's artistic. It's stunning."
This is the second photo Spies submitted to her high school's yearbook committee; it, too, was rejected.
And, despite the fuss, the picture is still getting into the yearbook - by way of Sydney's pocketbook. Yearbook staff said they are willing to run the picture as a paid ad in the back of the book, setting Sydney back $300.
But it's left Sydney with a bad taste in her mouth: "If it's going to be in the yearbook anyway, then why should I not be able to have it as my senior picture?" she told Lauer. "That's what I don't understand."
The Spies are considering legal action against the school, and the Colorado Student Press Law Center indicate they may have a case. According to a Colorado state statute, "students of the public schools shall have the right to exercise freedom of the press" and "no expression contained in a student publication, whether or not such publication is school sponsored, shall be subject to prior restraint."
But for her part, Sydney says she just hopes the school reverses its decision.
"It's illegal for the administration to get involved, so that's why we're even considering (legal action)," she said.
The yearbook's faculty advisor Tammy Schreiner denies she or the school administration played any part in the yearbook's staff decision to disallow the photograph.
"There was absolutely no influence or any kind of coercion whatsoever," Schreiner told NBC.