I recently read this story. Did you see it too?
It’s about an eight year old boy with a gappy grin, a physical characteristic of his age. School photo day came and went. And several weeks later when bringing the photos home, his Mum noticed something disturbing. The image had been photo-shopped to give him a full set of teeth. That’s right, without permission, the photography company had edited the photo to make him look more perfect.
There are so many conversations that could evolve as a result of this story: body image, self-love and the like.
But I want to delve into this question – as parents, do we want our children to look perfect? Or do we want them to look like, well, them?
Because what I love about school photos is the imperfections.
The missing teeth.
The wonky fringe.
The cheesy smile.
The beautifully timed eye roll.
Perfect, no. But a snapshot of our child at that moment in time, yes.
The class photo for a new group of school children, for example, is full of cherubic faces and eager, cheesy smiles. By middle primary, the faces aren’t as round, the smiles have become more natural, or in some cases, a little self-conscious. And there’s guaranteed to be the odd silly face that slipped through.
I’m not saying that everything we see in school photos is going to please us. You may be embarrassed to discover that your child was the one who pulled that silly face. Or perhaps you’re saddened to see that your child couldn’t even look up at the camera. That was my own experience this year, and I’m guessing, not a very common one.
I’ve written about my five year old’s journey with Selective Mutism before, and her challenges speaking in public also extend to being photographed. This means that her school photo is far from perfect but it does beautifully capture this moment in time.
Would I want to change it? No. Did that eight year old’s Mum ask for a copy of the real photo (with his 2017 smile)? Yes.
Let’s embrace the toothless grins, the rolling eyes, the unkempt hair, the wonky collar, the refusal to look at the camera.
Every photo tells a story. Just maybe not the perfect one we’d planned.
Our children are beautiful as they are. Let’s be sure to let them know it.