“Enhanced” school photos? No thanks

Tuesday is Picture Day at my daughters’ school, which means outfits will be selected with care, hair will be brushed (more than once) and if it’s raining we’ll drive instead of walk.

I do want my daughters to look their best.

But my husband and I agree that looking their best should not involve the “image enhancement” options offered by photography companies. When I first started filling out photo order forms, I went from being surprised (“They retouch school photos?”) to annoyed (“Of course they retouch school photos.”) For an extra $6, they offer “basic enhancement,” which “softens hard edges reducing prominent facial blemishes.” For $12 you get “premium retouching,” which “eliminates blemishes, whitens eyes and teeth and reduces stray hairs.”

schoolphotosMy daughters, I’ll add, are in kindergarten and third grade.

A 2010 New York Times article, “No Boo-boos or Cowlicks? Only in School Pictures,” chronicled the practice:

“The practice of altering photos, long a standard in the world of glossy magazines and fashion shoots, has trickled down to the wholesome domain of the school portrait. Parents who once had only to choose how many wallet-size and 5-by-7 copies they wanted are now being offered options like erasing scars, moles, acne and braces, whitening teeth or turning a bad hair day into a good one.

School photography companies around the country have begun to offer the service on a widespread basis over the past half-dozen years, in response to parents’ requests and to developments in technology that made fixing the haircut a 5-year-old gave herself, or popping a tooth into a jack-o’-lantern smile, easy and inexpensive. And every year, the companies say, the number of requests grows.”

Maybe I’m so annoyed with the practice because I work at a newspaper, where altering photographs remains a huge no-no, or maybe it’s because I don’t bother to enhance our family photos. Digital cameras have already ensured we won’t have pics where one kid has her eyes closed or another one has her mouth open. Those get deleted. Also, I’m trying to help them develop healthy body images. By “enhancing” their school photos I’d be telling them there’s something about them that needs to be enhanced. Actually, the changes — such as whiter eyes and teeth — might be so subtle they wouldn’t even notice. Which is all the more reason not to do it. What’s the point?

I remember a fourth-grade school picture where my Dorothy Hamill cut wasn’t as sleek as I had imagined. My husband remembers a sixth-grade picture when he had a zit. We both survived.

When the day comes that I have hormonal teenagers freaked out about acne, I may just eat these words. For now, when Tuesday comes I’ll do my best with the curling wand on the third-grader’s hair, and make sure the kindergartner doesn’t look like she just rolled out of bed.

But between the time I drop them off at school and the camera clicks, if the youngest has pushed her hair out of her eyes and her photograph comes back showing a few hairs out of place, well, I’ll just love it all the more.




Stephanie Rice

Stephanie Rice

I cover Vancouver city government. Reach me at stephanie.rice@columbian.com or 360-735-4508.

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