Why I’m Glad My School Photographs Were Awful

School Photography Specialists Cardwell & Simmons have found themselves in hot water recently for offering airbrushing services to their clients. As The Mail On Sunday reported at the weekend, the company offer to photoshop portraits they take of children in their uniforms – should their parents so desire it – for the princely sum of £7.

I’m confident I’m not alone in finding this service disgraceful. The issue of airbrushing an image of a child to make them look ‘better’, is wrong on so many levels. It’s not even worth imagining what it would do to a child’s confidence – what it would have done to OUR confidence? To see an image of ourselves framed on Grandma’s wall looking ‘picture perfect’ and knowing it’s not truly us? What message would that have sent out? ‘You’re only fit to be ‘on display’ if you look as physically symmetrical and unblemished as Barbie,’ that’s what. I can’t really get my head around it.

Company director Linda Simons told the MoS, ‘We would only consider photoshopping a temporary mark on the face and would never change the shape of a child’s face.

‘Most of the requests we get are to do with clothing, like a stain on the child’s top or with hair being untidy or windswept.’

This brings me neatly to my next point. Who are the people requesting this service? What parent sees their child’s unbrushed hair or scratch from that afternoon spent climbing trees, or remnants of those sploshed cornflakes, as something that’s too unsightly to be documented? Don’t those things perfectly capture what it is to be a child – carefree, adventurous, natural? Aren’t those, in fact, the very things that should be captured – the memory of life before the inevitable adulthood set in, and all sorts of extraordinary things are done to our hair, climbing trees are long forgotten, and soya lattes replace cornflakes for breakfast? It makes me so sad…

Thinking back to my own school photographs, I’ll admit that at the age of 7, I was never happy with them. It had nothing to do with blemishes or stains though, and all to do with the fact my hair wasn’t long enough. My mother would never let me grow my hair to any great length because I had an uncanny knack of contracting nits at least once a term, and sometimes even twice. Long hair was literally all I dreamt about, and the school photograph was yearly proof I didn’t have it. In fact, the only time I ever came close to liking one, was the year I had the ingenious idea of tilting my head slightly to the right, which meant roughly a thumb-tip’s worth of hair fell below my shoulder. It was a great day when that snap came out…

All the other photos of me I didn’t like because I didn’t think I looked good. I remember being quite upset by that. But I got over it because LUCKILY my parents always seemed to like them. And other family members too.

There’s something about the school photograph that is so innately you. People who like them, like you very much. Incidentally, they make a fine test for boyfriends later in life. The boy that laughs at your gap tooth and says your hair looks ‘CRAZY’? Get rid. The guy that picks it up off your parent’s dusty mantelpiece, stares at it, and says how sweet you look – he’s a keeper.

Were you a shy child? An adventurous child? A neat child? A messy child? That school photo says it all. It shows exactly who you are… underneath all the doubt that adolescence kindly lavishes on your self-esteem which takes you years to kick. Why anyone would want to alter such a snapshot – such a moment of innocence – seems inherently wrong.

The school photograph is one of the truest portraits most of us will ever own. It should be cherished for all its ‘imperfections’, because it’s those that make it the perfect picture of us.

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