Fiona's Blog: Should Parents Photoshop Kids' School Pictures?
I was born with a small “strawberry,” more formally known as infantile hemangioma, on my left eyebrow. In other words, as a baby, I had a small but noticable fuchsia mark, which my doctor explained was harmless and would fade as I got older.
Although a lot of children are born with strawberries, I often had kids point at my face and say—in that totally uninhibited way little kids sometimes express themselves—“What’s that thing?” I generally answered specifically and somewhat scientifically, explaining that I was born with it, but that it would fade and disappear. I never felt bad or embarrassed about my strawberry, and as I answered more and more questions about it, I even gained a sense of pride. “That’s my strawberry!” I would reply triumphantly, when asked.
Sure enough, when I entered my preteen years, my strawberry slowly began to fade from both my face and my consciousness. As my peers grew older and more polite, and red spots on faces became a bit more common, I all but forgot about my strawberry. In fact, as I began to write this blog, I realized I didn’t even know if I still had it. As I peered into the mirror, searching my eyebrow for any sign of that berry pink, I felt a slight nostalgia for the pea-sized splotch that I had so proudly defended. My strawberry is gone.
I began thinking about my strawberry a few days ago, when I stumbled across this New York Times article profiling the recent trend among school photography companies of photoshopping school pictures. I’ve written before about the negative affect I believe photoshopping has on young people—specifically girls on facebook. This article confirmed my feelings and gave me something new to think about, too.
Apparently, school photography companies have begun offering the option of “photoshopping” to parents looking to doctor their child’s school picture. The photographers offer different levels of retouching, such as whitening teeth, removing scars and acne, and even shortening or restyling haircuts. The option has become popular with parents whose children are as young as kindergarten or first grade.
Parents interviewed in the article justified their decision to photoshop in several ways. Some argued that by removing a stray hair or scab they weren’t changing anything that was actually a permanent part of their child’s face. Others explained that they asked their child’s permission first or left the choice up to them.
As soon as I read this, my first thought—aside from maybe “Ew, how creepy”—was about my strawberry. I grew up feeling proud of my little red mark, because I was never told I should feel any other way. If I had been asked if I wanted to erase it in a photo or—even worse—received my class picture sans-strawberry, I’m fairly sure my desire to parade the little red splotch around like a badge of honor would have diminished.
I think about all my little elementary school pictures lined up in a row: seven pairs of blue eyes, seven pairs of smiling teeth, and seven little strawberries growing fainter and fainter as the years progress. If the photoshopping option had existed in my day, I’m fairly certain my parents wouldn’t have even considered it, but I can’t help but imagine all those little strawberries being painted over or dragged into the trash on some editor’s computer screen year after year. Maybe I’m dramatizing a little bit, but I imagine them squealing “nooooo” as the delete button is pressed, and I feel a little bit of grief for all the kids whose strawberries have been erased.
If we encourage kids to want to erase their imperfections when they’re very young, how will they ever be able to handle acne…or wrinkles? I hope some people fight the photoshop craze and are proud and loud about their strawberries—whatever form they might take.
Fiona Lowenstein is a high school junior, weekly guest blogger and Girls Leadership Institute alumna. Read more about her work here.