Adolescence is invariably an awkward and uncomfortable phase of life. Gangly limbs and acne are the bane of many pupil’s school career, and school photos become a painful reminder of these gawky days. However, this could soon be a thing of the past, as the school photography firm Cardwell and Simons have recently announced that they will be offering an airbrushing service to remove blemishes and imperfections to create the perfect school photo.
In some ways, it is possible to see why this might be appealing. Given the opportunity, wouldn’t we all like to create a perfect version of ourselves, that we can display with pride and look back on with warmth and fondness years later? Everyone wants to look good in photos, and this way everyone can. Indeed, in an age of filters and easy-to-use photo editing software, people are able to look their best all the time, and to present an idealised image of themselves. With this in mind, surely one more photo is not going to make a difference.
Moreover, the school photo as a concept has dramatically reduced in significance. In the pre-digital and smartphone age, photographs were taken much less often, and so each photo took on a greater importance. But now the school photo is just one of a multitude which will document that part of a pupil’s life, and most of them will be heavily edited anyway. So with all this in mind, where is the harm?
The harm is in the message that is constantly being projected onto young girls in particular: you are not good enough as you are; you need to be thinner, prettier, more symmetrical, have fuller lips, a smaller nose, bigger eyes, longer legs and bigger breasts, be more perfect and conform to the feminine ideal which is propagated in magazines, adverts and media wherever you look.
But these standards are not exclusively applied to girls. Boys, too, are forced to live up to a certain expectation of looks and behaviour. Providing yet another outlet for these unrealistic standards is never going to be a positive thing. Photoshopping school photos does nothing except feed into the homogenised and unattainable idea of beauty which is propagated in society.
Being continuously surrounded with heavily edited images of celebrities and models is harmful and damaging, especially for young, unconfident teens who feel awkward in their own bodies. But this would be nothing in comparison to seeing a photoshopped version of yourself, where all of your flaws and deepest anxieties would be highlighted through their absence.
Presenting young people with an idealised image of what they should look like will not inspire confidence or create fond memories, but will simply worsen the culture of self-loathing and unhappiness being fostered by the media.
Moreover, school photos are not meant to create a perfect vision, nor impose a standard which you will forever be trying, and failing, to uphold. They are meant to capture the image of how you looked at school, and represent a part of your life, as you were, spots and all, so that you can look back and be thankful for how much better you are now.