My first thought was: You’ve got to be kidding.
I was reading the online order form for my daughter’s senior-class portrait and noticed we had the option of altering her appearance … for a price.
For $20, we could whiten her teeth. Or her eyeballs.
For $40, we could make her tan lines disappear. Or even the braces on her teeth. (If she had either, anyway.)
You’ve heard about the “price of beauty.” Well, in this case, the price was $120 to get the whole eye-whitening, braces-vanishing shebang.
But it didn’t stop there. “Enhanced retouching” also offered us the chance to “soften age lines.”
Yes, “age lines” … for a 17-year-old.
No wonder children are growing up obsessed with their body images. The adults are telling them they should.
This isn’t new. A few years ago, an all-girls school in Kansas City made waves when the school’s photo company slimmed down the faces and bodies of the students — without their permission.
One senior who had grown to accept her “big cheeks” said she hardly recognized her altered picture, saying she felt like she was looking at her “prettier twin sister.” Let that sink in for a moment.
In another case, a mom in Australia finally realized why her 8-year-old son’s school picture looked so odd — because the company had photoshopped in his missing front teeth.
“Surely we have lost the plot when we start photoshopping an 8 year old’s gappy grin,” Angela Pickett wrote on her blog.
She said she was “baffled.” I was actually irritated.
I wanted to tell the photo company that my daughter is beautiful exactly the way she is.
And not just beautiful, but smart, independent, creative and entrepreneurial — and I don’t need some company giving her a list of all the possible physical imperfections she might consider photoshopping away.
I mean, I have to imagine that there are any number of kids who never worried that the whites of their eyes weren’t white enough … until offered the chance to photographically bleach them.
Pediatric psychologist Dr. Beth Long, the interim chief of behavioral health at Nemours Children’s Health in Orlando, said the retouching offers play into kids’ worst fears. “This immediately sends a message that we need to alter our presentation,” she said, “during a period in their lives that is so critical in developing identity.”
In many ways, this is already the world of a 21st-century teen — an Instagram, Snapchat society where kids constantly share photos of themselves using filter and photo technologies that allow them to change their appearances quicker than any photo company can.
In fact, Luke Stewart, vice president of Dean Stewart Photography — the Brevard County company that handles photos for schools throughout Central Florida, including my daughter’s — said that, while his company won’t thin out students, customers expect many of the other photoshop options.
“The customers come to us with a perspective that photoshop can fix anything,” he said.
And he does mean anything. Parents once asked for his company to remove the piercings from their child — but only in the copies they wanted to give to family members. The piercings stayed in the yearbook pics.
“Maybe grandma didn’t want to see it,” he supposed. “Remember, most of the time, it’s not the child making the request. It’s the parent. And one thing we don’t do is argue with mama.”
It’s hard to argue with that from a business perspective.
I guess I get cleaning up temporary skin conditions. Still, Long said she would still rather see companies respond to requests for photoshopping, rather than offer them as a laundry list of physical flaws that kids may not have even considered they had.
Besides, adolescence is messy. Braces, bad haircuts and missing teeth are part of growing up.
In my senior picture, I had ridiculous orange hair, thanks to a summer of lifeguarding and … well … Sun-In. I had to own that.
I don’t suffer any delusions that we can or should put the photoshop genie back in the bottle. Instead, the best thing we can do is what Long suggested — remind our children that they are loved. And beautiful. Both inside and out.
Remind them that they don’t need to live up to anyone else’s standards for beauty, whether it’s a magazine cover or a friend’s retouched yearbook photo.
I think my daughter knows that. When I asked her if she had considered getting any of the retouches, she just shrugged and said: “I don’t really care about any of that.”
Smart, beautiful girl.