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Don’t Mind the Gap: Why Are We Now Photoshopping School Portraits?

There is something amiss with the photo above. I’m not talking about the missing teeth on the left — that’s the correct photo. The problem is the photo on the right. Surely we have lost the plot when we start Photoshopping an 8-year-old’s gappy grin.

Arriving home from work yesterday, my excitement at finally receiving the boys’ school photos was quickly replaced by bewilderment. As I looked at the photos of our eldest, I thought to myself: “I didn’t realize he still had teeth when the photos were taken”.

In the world of a primary school mum, and one whose term two started with both kids down with chicken pox in week one, photo day in term one seemed a lifetime ago.

But then I looked at the family photo and his class photo, and there he was. Gappy McGapster (as he currently calls himself) in all his glory. At first, I thought they’d given us last year’s photo, but then I looked closer. Nope. His mouth had been photo-shopped with what looked like last year’s baby teeth swapped in.

Some people might have been angry at this point but I was just baffled. Why would anyone think to do this? At what point did missing teeth because something to be “fixed”?

Body image has not been something we have had to worry about too much yet with two young boys. But having recently finished Mia Freedman’s new book Work Strife Balance, I was reminded how often we are confronted with unreal, Photoshopped images.

While I did turn a blind eye to the guy in our local photo shop in Vietnam touching up my passport photo a few years ago, I’m too lazy to filter or alter my own social media images. But this wasn’t touching up the light on a sunset or brightening up the group shot to see everyone better.

This is a kid who didn’t lose a tooth until he was almost seven. He’s not embarrassed by the gaps and wonky teeth, he’s excited because lost tooth equals gold coin. He doesn’t notice the crooked new teeth because he’s a kid and he is more interested in basketball, hockey, Netflix or finishing his collection of Marvel disks, and what he can eat next.

Year 4 – buck teeth, centre part and a skivvy. It was 1983!

I had really bucky teeth as a kid — my Year Four photo above is a good one! While kids can be awful, and reciting a poem called Butterflies before I got braces probably didn’t do me any favors, I love looking back at those old photos. I want my son to be able look back over all his school photos and see how he has changed.

And while some might blame social media for this obsession with “perfect” photos, for me, social media — especially Facebook — came into its own last night as I shared my “WTF” moment. Not only did it save me from publicly railing against the company, but sharing it with my friends and then others has created made me realize this was something really quite weird… and wrong.

But instead of getting angry, I shared my bafflement and quietly send a pretty measured message to the company.

I went to bed giggling at some of the exchanges I’d had with friends and strangers and woke up to a very apologetic message from the company agreeing it was wrong, promising it wouldn’t happen again and attaching the original photo (with reprints to come). There was no excuse made which made me think this was not the norm and so I was happy to leave it at that (who knows why someone thought it was a good idea). I let the school know (and had a chat with the completely flabbergasted principal).

I am glad I called them on it and while I heard a few similar stories from others, I feel pretty confident it’s not the norm and best of all, there didn’t seem to be anyone out there agreeing that this was a good idea.

But had I not said anything, who is to say it wouldn’t become the norm? It was also important for our son to know we love him as he looks now. Accepting the Photoshopped photo says to him that we think there is something wrong with how he looks.

Our kids are growing up with so much technology that for them that perhaps we do have to remind them (and ourselves) of the importance of imperfect authentic photos and memories, gappy teeth and all!


Followup: I’ve been completely overwhelmed by the response to this post since I published it on my personal blog. Who knew that a little rant about imperfect photos and memories would be shared so widely and generate such interest.

The photo company involved have been really honest, explaining that a number of staff had been seriously ill and it had been stressful dealing with this and training new staff. The staff member who swapped in his “2016 mouth” now realises it was an error of judgement. It was sad to hear that in the past they have been criticised for NOT Photoshopping out messy hair, bruises, cuts and stains on shirts.

The best thing has been the realization that for the most part parents want these memories of their kids to be just as they are. It’s also a good reminder to all of us — and especially to those of us with kids — not worry about filters and Photoshopping. Sharing photos should be about sharing authentic memories, even if they are a bit messy and wrinkled!


About the author: Angela Pickett is an ex-diplomat who lives in the Barossa Valley of South Australia with her family. She writes and works for a winemaker. You can find more of her work and connect with her on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This article was also published here.

[via PetaPixel]

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