Michelle Cove
October 19, 2014

Why it’s misguided to opt for school-pic airbrushing 

by Michelle Cove, Executive Director MEDIAGIRLS

When a new friend of mine told me that her child’s school-picture forms came this year with the option to airbrush away blemishes and minor “flaws,” I was shocked. Apparently this has been going on for four years now. In a world where we can take dozens of digital photos of our children at any time with a click on our phones, I’ve not looked at school-picture forms so I missed this development. I fear my plea is too late; the forms may all be in. But I have to get this off my chest…

I’m mad. In a world with waaay too much focus on girls looking beautiful and camera-ready at all times, this only fuels the physical-perfection fire. Second, when parents check off the “please retouch” option–whitening teeth, eliminating a stray hair, even adding a missing tooth–it inherently sends a message to our kids that we want them to look better than they do in real life. How can we tell our child that what matters is her internal beauty while paying extra money for a digitally enhanced image of her exterior? Kids are smart, and know hypocrisy when they smell it.

I wondered what girls thought of this idea, and whether they’d jump at the chance of a good airbrushing. So I asked 15 of my MEDIAGIRLS participants during class last week whether the option was good, bad, or somewhere in the middle. One girl said it was fine (“If we can make the class picture look like us but at our very best, why not?”); the rest were dead-set against it for the reasons below:

“One word for you: F-a-k-e.”

“Why would you want a picture of you that’s not really you? I want my parents to be proud of my pictures even if I have a zit on my nose or my teeth are a little crooked.”

“It’s gross. We should be thinking about how to find peace with our looks, not change them for the camera.”

“How lame. It’s one thing for adults to digitally change their picture but it’s gross that they want to do it to their kids’ picture.”

“How will they know where to stop? Maybe it starts with just airbrushing a hair that’s sticking up but then what about the idea of making a kid’s eyes bigger so they’re prettier? Where do you draw the line?”

I admit it was a relief to hear this, and I told the girls that some of my favorite pictures in life now are the ones that were the most embarrassing from childhood. There’s the one where I got braces and refused to smile so my clamped lips make me look angry; and the one where my mom trimmed my bangs way too short and my eyebrows seemed to take up half my face. Back then, I prayed my parents would not hand out the pictures to anyone I knew other than my grandparents. Now I love seeing the different ages and stages through my class pics. It’s a trip down the bumps (and joys) of memory lane. So I reject this idea of creating, as the girls put it, a “f-a-k-e” memory lane. We, with our bushy eyebrows, braces, pimples, scars–and, later, with our crows feet and wrinkles and under-eye circles–are to be accepted and downright cherished for who we are. This idea of “enhancing” our image and pretending it isn’t a big deal feels like a slippery and scary slope. I ask you to consider this the next time you have the opportunity to check the “please retouch” option.

What do you think?

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