In January 2012, Durango High School student Sydney Spies became a national celebrity after a photo she'd submitted for her senior yearbook was deemed too sexy for inclusion. She soon found herself sitting across a TV network set from a pre-scandal Matt Lauer on the Today show and was subsequently cast in a movie for the Syfy network.
But if Sydney and her mother, Miki Spies, gained notoriety from this very twentieth-century episode, they also triggered an avalanche of negativity. Sydney now says she and her mom left Durango in part because of nasty responses from locals, kicking off a journey that took the pair from Los Angeles to the Netherlands, where they reinvented themselves as life coaches, astrology gurus, sexual provocateurs and YouTube figures with no interest in putting a filter over any of their experiences.
And yet now, seven years later, the SpiesGirls, as they are known online, have moved back to Durango, where they haven't exactly been greeted with open arms by everyone in town.
Why did they come back to a place from which they once fled? "I'm here for revenge," Sydney allows — and while she follows this declaration with a winky-smiley and a more serious explanation, she makes it clear that she has no intention of allowing herself to be slut-shamed again by her home town now or in the future.
In the following interview, conducted via email, Sydney goes into greater detail than ever before about the impact of the sudden fame she encountered, the backlash from friends and family, the knowledge she earned from her overseas excursion and the variety of responses she and Miki received upon their Colorado return. She also anticipates that haters will strike again, but this time she'll be ready.
Here's the latest chapter in her story, interspersed with photos and screen captures of social-media posts that castigate the SpiesGirls for being who they want to be.
Westword: How long after the yearbook controversy did you leave Durango? What were your reasons for doing so?
Sydney Spies: I moved to Los Angeles six months after the yearbook "scandal." The controversy definitely gave me a push out of town. The treatment my mom, Miki, and I received by our "community" was horrific. They wanted us gone. They told us so. Two days before I moved, my mom and I were arrested at a going-away party. A cop was overheard at the police station bragging, "We got that slut, Sydney Spies." Mere hours after the arrest, our mug shots were front-page news and the [Durango] Herald was knocking on our door. We certainly felt targeted. I was very shook up, but delighted to get out of what had become a menacing place for my mom and I both.
Things had been moving so quickly since the controversy, I hardly had time to breathe, let alone process all that had happened thus far. The story broke in January of 2012 and my life was full speed from there.
The Today show was one of the first to get hold of my mom and I. We were flown out to New York City a few days after my story went viral and were interviewed by Matt Lauer. (Unfortunately no, we didn’t have time to play Fuck, Marry, Kill. I would have liked to. It’s one of my mom and I’s favorite games.) I broke the Today show's online poll record. Chaos ensued. I was being harassed in the hallways by my hateful, judgmental, jealous "peers." I couldn’t go anywhere without people recognizing me. Thousands of messages were pouring in daily. My Facebook shut down because of the massive amounts of friend/message requests I was receiving. The news was calling in by the dozens. Newspapers, magazines, radio stations, bloggers, etc. I got calls from shows like Dr. Phil, Anderson Cooper, Good Morning America. Even Playboy wanted an interview. My mom and I were contacted by agents, producers, modeling recruiters, documentary film makers. The Amazing Race called. The Syfy network offered me a role.
At this point, my story was international. I moved to L.A. and took acting classes with Richard Lawson, who is married to Tina Knowles. He told me I was one of the most natural actresses he’s ever worked with. I was taking meetings with reality TV show producers, as well as one of the biggest agents in L.A. I was working, dating, adjusting to the extremely contrasting culture of Los Angeles.
A few months after my move, an ex-boyfriend of mine overdosed and died. I fell into a horrible depression. I had been through a year of madness. A massive move. Severe treatment from haters. "Friends" betrayed me. People I had known my entire life were speaking monstrously about me. I lost someone I loved dearly. My extended family was radio silent during the storm. Not supportive of me one bit. My own father was ashamed of me. He didn’t defend my honor to his family, his colleagues or community members. In fact, he shunned me.
How do you explain the closeness of your relationship with Miki, both personally and professionally?
My mom was the only person there for me through everything, thick and thin, holding picket signs and all. I lived in L.A. for six months before my mom left her then-fiancé to join me. We are the best of friends. We couldn’t stand to be apart. She encouraged me to stand tall, not allow myself to feel the shame people so desperately tried to place on me. She never judged me or tried to change me. She supported me and continues to support me in every aspect of my life.
We protected each other from the wickedness of our enemies. We are each other's number one cheerleaders. We believe in each other. We have the same mission in life and we pursue it with reckless abandon. Our own family deserted us. When you grow, when you expand your mindset like my mom and I, people come out against you. You have to be extremely particular about who you allow into your life. Unhealthy, undeveloped, censorious people will have a negative affect on your well-being. Energy transfers. My mom just so happens to be one of the healthiest, most caring, creative, ambitious, loyal and fierce people on the planet. Such a high-quality person as my mom is rare to find. I am so lucky. We both are.
Looking back, I see that I could have taken more opportunities that were presented to me. The experience was so unexpected and it overwhelmed me tremendously. I don’t know many eighteen-year-olds that have endured the kind of international attention I received. But I would not be the person I am today had I not chosen the life journey I did.
After a year and a half of living in L.A., the insanity had subsided somewhat. I healed from the maltreatment. I told my mom I had always wanted to live in Europe. Without hesitation, she said, "Okay, let's go." Six months later we were on our way to Holland. We left our lovers, friends and family behind for an adventure on the other side of the world.
Did you find that Scandinavians have a healthier view of sexuality than do many Americans?
My mom and I learned more about life, humanity and universal secrets in our four years abroad than we had our entire lives previously. We became healthy in every aspect of the word. Physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally. We studied and studied and studied. We studied all things business, technology, new science, ancient scriptures, spiritual practices from all over the world, esoteric knowledge, even conspiracy theories. We became vegans and refused to contribute to the torture and murder of innocent animals. This was one of the greatest decisions of our lives. The vegan lifestyle opened up our consciousness. Level after level after level. Pure, uninhibited enlightenment.
We tuned out of what everyone else was tuning into: politics, cable TV, pop-culture, other people's mindless social media posts, etc. Because let’s face it, the majority of humanity is a fucking mess. To put it nicely ;)
We went to conferences with some of the best business men in the world. We formed relationships with powerful people. We learned from the best of the best. We wrote books. Traveled. I was modeling. My mom was becoming one of the greatest spiritual teachers of our time. We continued to film our lives. This footage is currently being released in chronological order on our YouTube channel, SpiesGirls to the Rescue!
We were giving more and more predictive astrological readings to people of all different ages, races, religious backgrounds. We reflected. We found our power. We concluded we had manifested our crazy life quest. All that had happened was a reflection of our thoughts, our actions, our decisions.
We officially launched our businesses, SpiesGirls and Bitch House Productions. We promoted ourselves and our brands shamelessly. Proclaiming that we have inside information as to why the world has gone to shit. That us, the SpiesGirls, know how to make individuals lives a million times better. We can help you heal from depression, lose weight, make money, find love, understand the secrets of the universe. We, the SpiesGirls, can save the world. (Bold claims, we know.) We were very LOUD with the knowledge we had discovered and continued to discover. We learned new things every day. We became obsessed with self-development. We felt it was our moral obligation to encourage everyone to do the same.
And here came the hate. Again. "Just STOP!" "You’re prostituting your daughter out." "You’re in your twenties, you can’t be a life coach." "I have nothing to learn from you!" "Stay in Europe forever. Don’t come back. You aren’t welcome."
These messages flooded in from people we had known our entire lives. People we (naively) thought were friends. We were shocked, again. We thought to ourselves, "How can people treat us so hideously? All we want to do is help. All we want to do is make the world a better place. I don’t understand."
We realized it’s not your intentions, it’s not even your actions that most people care about. They will overlook all of the positive things you bring to the world if they don’t like the way you go about it. They don’t care who you are. All that matters to them is who they think you are. They make up their mind about you based on what the media tells them, what their friends gossip about, the lies that are told about you from enemies. We were far too brazen in the eyes of those who used to know us. We were too loud. Too much. We weren’t politically correct. We were bold, pushy, defiant. We did what we wanted. Our authenticity was thunderous. In a world that wants everyone to be the same, a world that loves the censorship of certain topics and words, we rose above it all. People hated us for it. It terrified them.
So we stopped giving our divine knowledge away to people that had no appreciation for it. We traded up. One of the greatest lessons we learned was to never allow anyone close that discourages you from greatness.
We then created our online wellness school, Fashion A Fairytale. The inspiration for this program was my mom's first book, Fashion a Fairytale: An Inspired Methodology for Manifesting Fantasies. Sharing all that we’ve learned from our explorations and continue to learn, we show people how to release their authentic natures, wield their magic and create the life they desire. We call our students our Fairies. We understand what it’s like to feel discouraged, to lose family and friends. We know that the world can be a dark, discouraging place. Therefore, we treat our Fairies like our family. We mentor them and give them the love and sense of community that is so difficult to find nowadays.
We’ve learned many, many other lessons along our journey. Living in Europe as expats gave us an outside perspective on the states. My mom predicted Donald Trump's election win. As astrologers, it was easy to see that the stars were in his favor. (As far away as we stayed from politics, we couldn’t not hear about this one. Even the Dutch had strong opinions about our next president.) What we didn’t predict were the brutal reactions to his win. The appalling treatment of one another continues to get worse and worse. The hate is particularly directed at those that take risks. Being on the outside looking in, and having the experiences in the spotlight that my mom and I have had, we saw an entirely different "side."
The real issues we face in this day and age are not political, nor moral. The problem is our lack of love. Approaching situations from a fearful, hateful angle. Humanity is beastly to one another. People throw around phrases like "kill yourself' without a second thought. It’s absolutely atrocious.
Many people never leave their hometown. They have no perspective. When you continuously put yourself out of your comfort zone, you learn new things. You have no choice but to expand your viewpoints. You force yourself to grow. Unfortunately, most people are exceedingly underdeveloped. They have no original thought. They refuse to look at things from an unbiased stance. They are so full of judgment and there is such a division in our world right now. This has generated a bunch of miserable, angry people.
One of the biggest reasons people carry such an angry spirit is because sexuality is being repressed. You asked if the Dutch have a healthier view of sexuality than most Americans. There are so many things we love about Holland and the people. The Netherlands is ahead in many ways. The country is organized and absolutely stunning. There is no hate culture like there is in America. We so appreciate that. But to us, the Dutch seem almost asexual. They don’t have an issue with sexuality, like Americans do. It doesn’t scare them. But they also don’t express their desires, their sensuality. The culture is very different in this way. So I suppose the American vs. Dutch sexuality viewpoints, and which is healthier, is up to interpretation.
But the states in no way have a healthy outlook on sexuality. There are certain groups, such as the music industry, where sexuality is celebrated. But the majority of society is severely repressed and, thus, unhappy. This unhappiness breeds anger. This makes people lash out like they did with me. They conceal insecurities within themselves, and when people like me express my sexuality so brashly, it upsets them. (To say the least.) Americans stifle their sexual nature, suppress their instincts, who they are. This is another reason there is hardly any originality anymore. People are programmed by the media, politics, advertisements, pop-culture, society. They are robots. They have no divergent thinking. There are few people that pursue their dreams. Very few people that create. So few people that are free. These people are often chastised by the low-minded majority. The only way they feel better is to attempt to tear down those rising. Those pursing greatness. Those embodying power in every aspect of their lives.
Is there an overriding theme to the material you've produced, and if so, what was it?
Knowing what it feels like to be the subject of such malice to such an epic degree, my mom and I, the SpiesGirls, formed our life and company mission: Raise The Energetic Vibration Of The World. Everything we create, everything our company produces, is with this intent.
We had two choices. Succumb to the hate. Roll over. Become defeated. Appease the idiot majority that loves to trample over independent thinkers. Or say, "Fuck all these haters." We do whatever the hell we want. This is our life! No one gets to tell us how to live. These strangers do not create our reality. We do. The first line in my mom's book is, "A bitch is a woman who refuses to put up with other people's bullshit."
My mom and I are not feminists. When the press was going crazy over my audacious decision to submit a sexy photo for my senior portrait, so called "feminists" were some of my biggest trolls. Throwing around words like "slut," "whore," "prostitute." I was surprised, to say the least. I thought the feminist community would be some of my biggest supporters. I thought that movement was about women expressing the fullness of themselves, lending support to one another. That is not the case. The feminist movement is a form of control. This campaign is a mammoth reason sexuality is being repressed.
Women are some of the most unkind people I’ve encountered along my journey. The jealousy that many carry is extraordinary. My own father remarried and I now have an evil stepmother that is jealous of my mother and I. Her bitterness has destroyed my relationship with my father. She won’t allow him to love me anymore. She despises us because of her self-conscious mannerisms. This kind of thing happens to my mom and I constantly. Single, liberated women strike fear in the hearts of insecure ones. They treat us horrendously and force their husbands, boyfriends, lovers to do the same. They have no control over their negative emotions so they control in the ways they can. By "managing" their men. Many of these women call themselves "feminists." This is the world we live in.
The SpiesGirls do not permit any group of people, political party, religious outlet, even family to influence our life voyage. As we say in our very first YouTube video, "We believe in radical freedom of expression, creativity that pushes boundaries, and of course, authenticity minus any hint of suppression." The SpiesGirls live by this motto.
Why did you decide to return to Durango? What kind of welcome did you receive from people who remembered the yearbook controversy? Were there also many people who have moved to Durango since then and knew nothing about those events — and did they greet you differently?
You asked me why I moved back to Durango. I’m here for revenge. Just kidding. Kind of ;)
After four years in Holland, my mom and I decided to leave our beautiful Shire. (That’s what we call Holland. The Dutch = Hobbits.) Occasionally a post would pop up about our hometown and all the issues they were facing: major fires, homelessness at an all-time high, businesses dying. And perhaps the biggest reason we chose Durango is because the suicide rates here are some of the highest in the country. I know exactly why that is.
I thought that after everything I went through here, I would never come back. But it was the theme of our lives, our mission...to make the world a better place. We felt it was only fitting to begin in our hometown of Durango, Colorado, which seems to be an epicenter of hate. We understand why the suicide rate is high here. We’ve felt it firsthand. People in this town told my mom and I to kill ourselves. To get out. That no one likes us. "No
one wants you here." "You’re giving Durango a bad reputation." "You’re horrible people. It would better if you were gone."
I can’t express to you how utterly vile and disturbing the treatment was. So we came back to help. And help in our own distinctive, dauntless, dazzling SpiesGirls fashion. There is such a lack of community here in Durango, it’s disheartening. People don’t even say hello to each other on the street anymore. Everywhere we go, my mom and I smile. We say good morning. We give compliments. We encourage positive behavior. In our live feeds on Facebook, we explore and expose the issues with this town. We talk about how we can improve it. Thousands of people tune in. We’ve worked with multiple businesses, helping them thrive in this new world of
online marketing. We are working closely with the homeless. Life coaching these men (for they are
mostly men). But the director of [a soup kitchen] made it quite clear that my mom and I are not welcome to life coach at their facility.
We went to [a local high school] to speak with the principal about assisting their students. Teenage suicide is too frequent a thing here in Durango. I offered to speak with the kids, share my story and how to come out on the other side. The principal plainly told us he didn't need/want help from The SpiesGirls....
Our reputation precedes us. Because we share our life and experiences so openly on social media, it petrifies people. They can’t control us, therefore they don’t know what to do with us. We go about life in the way we so desire. We are unexpected.
The problem with most of humanity is they don't want to improve. They don't want to change. They don't want to learn new things or admit they have anything to learn. They don't want to support each other. They want others to think just like them.
In the short months we’ve been back, we’ve given dozens of astrological readings. Multiple clients have expressed to us that we saved their lives. We revitalize our clients, give them hope, support their dreams, urge them to be wild and free.
It’s been a mixed reaction from the "community" since we moved back a few months ago. Some people see our life journey as an epic adventure. They praise us for all we’ve gone through, continue to go through and the guidance we share. We’ve had people filming us in the grocery store, hanging out of their windows to take photos.
But some "old friends" walk past us on the street without a word. The hate has been considerable yet again. We’ve been told off by leaders of nonprofits because we have "no credentials" and we are not "qualified" to speak on the issue of suicide or homelessness. These "leaders" want to shut down conversations by "rogue groups." Another delightful form of censorship. (Eye roll).
My own father sent me a nasty email when we first arrived in town, coaxed by his new wife. My cousin sent me a message calling me a "psychopath," "a toxic nightmare," that "I’ve ruined enough as it is." Let’s just say the SpiesGirls have NOT been welcomed back with open arms.
I don’t think we realized how famous we were in this town, even years later. Everyone knows who we are, and if they don’t upon meeting us, they soon find out. Many people have been following our escapades on social media since we left. We have received some really sweet messages as well. "Thank you so much for all you’re
doing." "This town desperately needs your help." "You are making the world a better place!" These messages give us hope. They inspire our mission.
The hate messages are overwhelmingly more prevalent than the love, but this time, we can handle it. We know what it means. It’s a reflection of the person that spoke/wrote those words. It’s how they feel about themselves. Spreading hate is how they feel relevant. It’s the only thing that gives them a bit of joy and satisfaction.
To reiterate what I mentioned earlier, it doesn’t matter the actions you take or who you are. It’s how you go about them that matters to most people. We, the SpiesGirls, have found in our endless explorations that it is the exact opposite that matters. It has everything to do with the actions you take and the person you continue to become. It doesn't matter how you go about it, it’s what’s in your heart that revolutionizes everything.
Do you have an interest in turning your YouTube channel into a reality-television series, and if so, have you been pitching it to networks and the like?
My mom and I launched SpiesGirls To The Rescue! as a way to tell our story. Our adventures on this new channel start in L.A., follow us to the Netherlands and back to our hometown, where the frenzy began. The footage currently being released is from four years ago. It’s embarrassing. My mom and I are completely different people now. We’re ridiculous in these vlogs. But it’s important to tell your story, your way. A platform like YouTube gives you the freedom to share your truth.
Before I knew any better, I handed over control of my story to a few unsavory characters. They hid the truth, told my story through their own twisted perspectives. I had no control over how I was depicted. Because of this, I am very particular about who I work with, when and how. I do have personal connections with network executives and producers alike. It’s of the utmost importance that our brand is represented properly. Since high school, my rebellious nature has only gotten stronger. I refuse to be dominated by anyone. I will never again place myself in a situation where I do not have freedom. Freedom to express myself. Freedom to say what I want.
I hate political correctness. I hate that there are words being taken away. Society thrives on suppression. I know what it feels like to be the subject of scorn. I know how people treat those that fight to be a maverick. My mom and I are out there. We’re a lot. We say things people think we ought not to. We do things that shock the world. We are unapologetically authentic. In almost every single subject there is, the SpiesGirls have a different perspective than most everyone. That’s why we don’t fit in. That’s why we never have. We never will. We know the hate will come yet again, and we are prepared for it. We welcome it. This channel will be an example of authentically living. No filter. Uninhibited, raw, wild, passionate, artistic, scandalous living… This is how I would describe our YouTube channel.
How would you sum up what you've learned since you first found yourself in the spotlight?
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Everyone is born with unlimited potential. We are born the same, but do not develop equally. Judgement and jealously are the lowest of vibrations. They poison everything. Even when we have different belief systems, it’s essential we still lend support to one another. But we live in a strange world right now, a divided world. Support, even love, is lacking.
You have to champion yourself. Self-develop. Grow. Improve. You must love yourself. This is where your power comes from. Only from this space can you improve the world. I understand now that no matter what I do, I will be judged and criticized in some form, by some group. I don't care. I know how to handle it. I know what it means. I don’t give a fuck. I do what I want. I never take advice from anyone that isn’t doing significantly better than me. I have high standards.
There is no obligation to fulfill other people's expectations. This is my life adventure. I live life on my terms, no one else’s. I create my reality. I will never bow down to society. I will always be myself. No matter how many people tell me to "just stop," I will push forward. I will make my mark.
The most important thing I’ve learned since being in the international spotlight is to be bold. Powerful. Scandalous. Because this is me. This is who I am. And who I am is pretty freakin’ marvelous.