Already skeptical about the need for annual class pictures in a modern world, Brian Gawlak reacts to the new ‘photoshop’ option.
I was rummaging through my girls’ school bags yesterday, and I came across the advertisement for their upcoming school photos. We are new to the state of Florida, having relocated from Connecticut, but it is always the same: overpriced, overrated photographers who, for whatever reason (certainly not based on merit), will reap the benefits of tens of thousands of dollars to take “professional” photos of an entire school of students, against a series of cheesy backgrounds for the low cost of #ridiculouslyexpensive.
Every parent I know never questions the expense or the “need” to make this purchase, and selects packages to assure there is a photo for every relative and friend under the sun. It is an axiomatic expense, much like a first day of school outfit or a new backpack. It just is.
After the importance of ‘the first school photo’ fades (pretty much after kindergarten), it becomes clockwork to take the new photo and place it in the same frame over the old photo. I have encountered this for several years now, and know that the greatest struggle in making our choices is: will our kid choose the background that best matches the dining room? Every.Single.Time.
I don’t mean to demean the value of having a delineated accounting of our girls growing up; but, in our advanced technological world, I have photos that are thousands of times greater than what $70.00+ can provide, taken each day, not once a year, displayed around our home.
I thumbed through the catalog, like I have every year since our oldest started kindergarten, but this time was markedly different. I sat down with my twin first grade daughters and my fifth grade daughter and asked their input on which overpriced package we should choose. The lowest priced (that includes 6 pictures total, the largest being 3×4–two of them) was ridiculous; the highest priced was $70.00 (but included three – count them THREE 8×10’s, in a world where you can take one wallet sized photo and turn it into a 20×30 poster that hangs at the center of your dining room for a little over $10.00).
“I just want a picture with my class, that is the most important thing,” stated my youngest twin.
“Well, you got it, babe! No matter which package we choose, you will have that!” I exclaimed. Her twin sister smiled with delight at the prospect.
Then there was the “look” that my oldest gives me when I know she is feeling self-conscious, or having a hard time.
“What’s up?” I asked her.
“Can you please choose option ‘P’ for my picture?” she asked so innocently, yet self-assured. “It is only $13.00, and I have that in my savings. I will pay for it!”
I scanned the order form, expecting to see something with glitter or 3-D options. Instead I found this:
‘Option P’: Retouching – Your whole package professionally retouched to remove facial blemishes, FINE LINES, and soften skin.
I tried from the start of my role as a father to empower my daughters to rely on their internal strength, intellect, precociousness, gut, instinct, and their amazing natural beauty (and I may be skewed, but I don’t think so – my girls are beautiful in every way that defines beauty). I feel like everything my wife and I tried to instill and teach our daughters about body image got cancelled out by ‘option P’, and for $13.00? It was almost gut wrenching to hear our 10-year-old believe she needs to remove her “fine lines.”
My twins have yet to learn about this option, or weigh in, but I can only imagine it will be a short matter of time before they, too, are asking to spend their savings to “soften their skin.”
I live in the real world, and don’t pretend I can keep my girls in a bubble and protect them from bullshit companies, options, or beliefs like this company perpetuates. I am still, however, my daughters’ guiding force that brings each of them from the dependence of youth and childhood to the freedom and independence of adulthood. My gut instinct was to say “no” to ‘Option P,’ refuse to buy their product and take a stand against such an atrocity.
I presented the above information on my Facebook page The Cook At Home Dad and asked people to weigh in. It then got shared by a bigger Facebook page Mommy Needs A Beer. I learned that this practice of “photoshopping” the “fine lines” and “blemishes” of elementary school students is not specific to this particular company, nor to the region of the country I live in. ‘Option P’ is what basically every photographer now offers.
My mother weighed in on the subject and felt it wasn’t fair to “take away such a gift” from both my daughters and the family who rely on the next layer in their “school pictures” frame by boycotting the company and not ordering pictures. I was upset with her at first, and then realized this could be a great chance to teach a life lesson.
When my girls got home from school, I called my oldest daughter over to the computer. I showed her this beloved family picture which hangs in our family room.
I asked her to really look at it and tell me how it made her feel.
“Happy,” she said, “except for (my sister on the right) who looks surprised!” She looked a little longer, and said “and that pimple on my chin, dad! Ugh!”
I smiled, patting myself on the back a bit. I then showed her a photo shopped version in which the “blemish” on her chin was gone, as were the bags under my eyes, the slight “crinkles” on my wife’s eyes, as well as the facial “blemishes” my wife and I both had. She was clearly stunned, and gasped.
“What do you think about this picture now?” I asked.
“It looks fake, daddy, but mostly because you look like you are balding in this shot!” Note: I changed nothing about my hair, hairline, or anything relating to my head. Out of the mouths of babes.
I returned to the original. “Which picture is real?” I asked.
“The one where we look natural,” she asserted, “the one without computer work where we look like us.”
I am a step ahead of you, ‘option P’. I flew into a rage over what was being offered and was prepared for a giant boycott and to fight every school official to fire the photographer and what ‘option P’stands for. I learned that this is not case specific, but the environment and world I raise my children in. I felt desperate and defeated, until I remembered: I am as strong as ‘option P’ (for now), and I should empower my children to look at things outside the box, rather than assume that ‘option P’ will be to their detriment or change who they are, what I’ve taught them, or their own sense of body image.
The twins are wearing matching dresses with their hair in some type of braid (thank God my wife will handle that). My oldest is back and forth on what to wear. I am confident she will figure it out by picture day. The pictures will be a lovely addition to the frame; may, or may not match the dining room; and, I may remember these specific shots down the road in a way I won’t prior to learning about ‘option P’.
I can assure you, hands down, ‘option P’ will not be selected, nor paid for. We shall enjoy the natural beauty that these pictures will add to our home for the low price of $210 until next year when the pictures are covered by the packages that will then cost $250. If my girls understand the ridiculousness and atrocity in not only charging for, but offering ‘option P’? I think I’m winning and so are my girls.
*Author’s note: I wrote this last year, and when my now 11-year-old daughter proofread it, she said: “you need to publish not just this, but the pic, dad. It is beautiful.” THAT, ‘option P’ is BEAUTY!
Photo: Flickr/JD Hancock
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