Kids’ School Photos Should Be Unashamedly Real, Not Retouched

If we don't teach our kids we love them for who they are, we're setting them up for a lifetime of feeling inadequate.
A nerdy school portrait of a schoolgirl
Jason_V via Getty Images
A nerdy school portrait of a schoolgirl

One of the joys – or horrors – of visiting your parents as a grown-up has got to be the fact they still have your old school photos on the wall. You know, the ones where you have a lopsided fringe and double train-track braces, or simply a shot where you’re not quite looking at the camera.

School photos are meant to be bad, aren’t they? It’s a rite of passage. Not so, according to a school in Arizona, US, which is offering digital ‘retouching’ services to parents for a class photo... of eight-year-olds.

Some people on Twitter exploded with disbelief, describing the option as “insane” and pointing out that it’s normal to be mortified by your picture when you’re little, “and then realise, as an adult, how damn cute you were”.

But others said they’d take up the opportunity of editing their child’s photo: “If I could have airbrushed away the enormous scab on my son’s nose which he got from picking it, I would have,” wrote one Twitter user. “We are stuck with that reminder forever.”

The Apprentice star Luisa Zissman even appeared on Good Morning Britain to defend it, and said she, too, had ‘retouched’ family photos of her children before hanging them on the wall. “When it’s on the wall I like it to look nice, I’ve got a very nice house. I want them to fit the brand of the house,” she said.

Zissman was challenged by journalist Dawn O’Porter, who said: “I would just be worried about that future conversation of, ‘didn’t you think I was good enough? I was a child and you didn’t think I was cute’. Let’s not instil that feeling.”

Full disclosure: I agree with Dawn. I have two young children, and their school photos are amazing. Not because they are perfect – far from it.

Last year, my daughter forgot to brush her hair and hadn’t washed it for a couple of days, either. The end result is her cheeky, happy, smiling face – and a mass of unkempt locks that make her look like she has been dragged through a hedge, backwards.

Similarly, my son – who’s just three – recently had some official nursery photos taken and opted to wear his sister’s red-and-white checked hairband, complete with a giant bow. The photos are impossibly silly, cute and real. And I wouldn’t change them for the world.

Plus, I’d be even less inclined to do so, given that we live in a world where memories so often come with filters; where you can change colours, sharpen or soften edges, or add bunny ears and a bright pink nose. A world where our kids are exposed to social media at increasingly early ages, which has in itself been linked to higher levels of loneliness, envy, depression, narcissism and decreased social skills.

If we put emphasis on the fact that we want our kids to be ‘perfect’ – to have unlined skin, to edit out a blemish – we’re sending them the message that who they are simply isn’t enough. We should be reversing that entirely, telling our children that’s exactly what they are, enough, and they don’t need to be anything more.

With that in mind, isn’t it a lovely and special thing, to have the last bastion of the school photograph, telling it exactly like it is? Warts, wonky fringes and all.