Parents outraged over school picture day ‘retouch’ trend

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Jennifer Greene doesn’t want her 12-year-old daughter, Madeline, to feel pressured into looking picture-perfect. 

So when the Maryland mom opened the seventh grader’s school-picture package from photography company Lifetouch and saw it urged parents to lay out an extra $12 for portrait “retouching” services — including teeth whitening, skin-tone evening and blemish removal — she freaked. 

“I was shocked,” Greene, 43, told The Post. 

“I completely disagree with [retouching a child’s school picture], because it’s teaching kids that they need to look perfect all the time and that they can change [a perceived flaw] with the click of a mouse.”

Retouching options on school portraits aren’t new — but they’re now being offered to students as young as pre-K and are becoming as ubiquitous as face-altering filters on social media, which have triggered a spike in anxiety and depression in teen girls.

Last fall, Florida mom Kristin Loerns was shocked to find that her then 10-year-old son Kieran's freckles had been edited out of his school photo (pictured at right) when she requested basic retouching for blemish removal.
Last fall, Florida mom Kristin Loerns was shocked to find that her then 10-year-old son Kieran’s freckles had been edited out of his school photo (pictured at right) when she requested basic retouching for blemish removal.
Courtesy of Kristin Amanda/@loefamilyloves/Lifetouch Inc.

Greene, a travel blogger and social media administrator, was so incensed by the Photoshop proposition that she blasted the company on Twitter. 

“I’m going to need someone to explain to me why @Lifetouch offers PHOTO RETOUCH for KIDS school pics?!” she tweeted late last month. “What the hell?!” (She said she never received a response. In a statement to The Post, Lifetouch said, “Our goal is always to authentically capture each child we photograph. Photo retouch is an entirely opt-in service that customers choose to add on to photo packages. Most, if not all, school photography companies offer this service and it’s an expectation as an available option for schools.”).

PHOTO FAIL: Last fall, Kristin Loerns was shocked to find that her then-10-year-old son Kieran’s freckles had been edited out of his school photo after she requested basic retouching for blemish removal.
Jennifer Greene was outraged by the idea that she should retouch her daughter Madeline’s school photo (inset left). “It’s teaching kids that they need to look perfect,” she said.
Courtesy of Jennifer Greene

Last November, Tampa, Fla.-based mom Kristin Loerns did a double-take when she receive her son Kieran’s school photos. His adorable freckles had vanished.

“I gave permission for ‘basic retouching,’ which would be removing blemishes, and they removed all of his freckles instead,” the 36-year-old blogger (@loefamilyloves) and photographer told The Post.

She complained to Lifetouch, which remedied the situation by resending the pictures with Kieran’s adorable freckles returned.

After removing young Kieran's freckles, Lifetouch agreed to resend the non-edited image to his family free of charge.
After removing young Kieran’s freckles (shown here), Lifetouch agreed to resend the non-edited image to his family free of charge.
Courtesy of Kristin Amanda/@loef

School-picture alterations don’t appear to be limited to the airbrushing of a child’s skin, teeth or blemishes.

Whitney Rose, a mom of two hearing-impaired toddlers, told The Post that she believes a photographer from a different company erased her 3-year-old son’s hearing aids from his school picture. Her outrage over the apparent offense garnered 2.2 million views on TikTok.

“These are my son’s hearing aids. They help him hear, they’re a part of who he is and he likes them,” Rose said on her TikTok account, @TheseDeafKidsRock.

“It’s sending a message to him that part of who he is, his hearing loss, is something he should be ashamed of.”

But Manhattan mom Heidi Green — an event and professional portrait photographer who spent 10 years snapping school pictures — said it is often parents who are pushing for perfection.

“The parent feels like they had to get [the flaw] fixed in order to enjoy the school picture, or to make the child look better,” she said

Green said there’s a fine line between standard photo editing and damaging retouching — particularly if the perceived imperfection is permanent.

One year, a client asked Green to edit out a life-long scar caused by a birth defect on her daughter’s face.

“I felt bad about it,” she said. “I smoothed it out a little bit so that she’d be happy with the picture without changing much.

“Removing a permanent scar to me would be like saying, ‘Can you make my child’s eyes blue?’” Green added. “Because why would you want your kid to look in the picture like they don’t look in real life?”

As both a mother and picture day photographer Green understands both sides of the photoshopping controversy.
As both a mother and picture day photographer Green understands both sides of the photoshopping controversy.
Photo credit is Heidi Green Phot

Still, Green says not all edits are sinister. She has long offered free-of-charge retouches for children whose pictures showed visible scratches, blemishes, messy hair from playing or eyeglass glare. Some changes, like minor teeth whitening, are part of the overall photo-editing process.

That type of minor retouching is something children won’t notice, said Yamalis Diaz, a child psychologist at NYU Langone.

What is concerning is when a child learns that their permanent characteristics have been changed in a photo — and no longer reflect what they see in the mirror.

“Could that start to make them feel inadequate? … Can that lead to some anxiety and depressed mood, eating disorders, body dysmorphia? Absolutely,” Diaz said.

Unlike adults, children are in an “evolution” stage of understanding themselves — and something as simple as messing with a school picture can be damaging.

“Instead of accepting your physical characteristics, your disability, your features, your appearance, you’re supposed to be fixing it or hiding it,” Diaz said. “And that is a dangerous message to send.”



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