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Are you hurting your child’s self-esteem by retouching their photos?

Australian mom Angela Pickett says a school photography company retouched her son's smile in his school photos without her permission.
Australian mom Angela Pickett says a school photography company retouched her son's smile in his school photos without her permission. Words By Ange

When Australian mom Angela Pickett had finally received her eight-year-old son’s school photos earlier this month, she was excited to see how they had turned out. Instead, she noticed something was off – and it left her confused.

“As I looked at the photos of our eldest [son], I thought – ‘I didn’t realize he still had teeth when the photos were taken,’” she wrote on her blog. “But then I looked at the family photo and his class photo – and there he was. Gappy McGapster (as he currently calls himself) in all his glory. At first, I thought they’d given us last year’s photo – but then I looked closer. Nope. His mouth had been Photoshopped with what looked like last year’s baby teeth swapped in.”

According to Pickett, the company that had taken her son’s school photo (which she did not name) had fixed her son’s smile without her permission and it got her thinking about the message it was sending to her son.

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“Body image has not been something we have had to worry about too much yet with two young boys,” she wrote. “But having recently finished Mia Freeman’s new book Work Strife Balance, I was reminded how often we are confronted with unreal, photo-shopped images.”

The situation prompted Pickett to contact the company about her concerns, to which they replied with an apology and a promise to send her the unretouched photos of her son.

“I am glad I called them on it and while I heard a few similar stories from others, I feel pretty confident it’s not the norm and best of all, there didn’t seem to be anyone out there agreeing that this was a good idea,” Pickett said. “But had I not said anything, who is to say it wouldn’t become the norm?”

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Pickett added that it was important for her that her son knows that his parents loved and accepted him as he was, not as what others think he should be. Accepting the Photoshopped version, she said, was telling her son there was something wrong with how he looked.

She said, “Our kids are growing up with so much technology that for them [sic] perhaps we do have to remind them (and ourselves) of the importance of imperfect authentic photos and memories – gappy teeth and all!”

Speaking to Global News, Pickett says the response she’s been getting from other parents has been positive overall.

“While I am sure many people have looked at photos and felt they paid a lot and they should be perfect, most people have agreed that school photos are about capturing a moment in time – gappy teeth, bruises, runny noses, bad hair and all,” she says. “I hope parents remember this when their photos come home from school and they might not be as they expected. I also hope parents will think about it when they are taking their photos – especially of themselves. So many moms in particular miss out on taking photos with their kids, especially everyday photos as they might think they don’t look good enough for a photo.”

READ MORE: Why this dad has had enough of people touching his baby

Parenting expert Kathy Lynn agrees with Pickett’s attitude.

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“What the company did was appalling,” she says. “At that age, it’s normal for kids to have missing teeth. But the reality is that we’re not talking about reality here. I think touching up any photos is ridiculous, but I truly think that touching up pictures of children to make them look ‘prettier’ or ‘older’ or ‘younger’ or anything shouldn’t happen.”

By altering a child’s look in their photos, Lynn says it’s telling children that they’re not good enough as they are, which can impact their self-esteem negatively now and in the future.

“I believe we have this feeling that everything should be ‘right’ and ‘perfect’ and somehow we’ve set a standard that says we’ll only allow certain looks to be out there,” Lynn says. “[Self-esteem] is absolutely essential because it’s all about how you see yourself. Self-esteem is what drives you and what allows you to believe that you’re good enough, that you’re capable, loved and able. And we don’t have that feeling about ourselves, then we give up – and when we give up, we don’t get anywhere.”

The best thing parents can do to build up their child’s self-esteem, Lynn says, is to just let kids be themselves.

“Just honour them as they are,” she says. “And the reality is that if we want our children to grow up and feel good about themselves, capable and do their best, we need to help them feel good about themselves – and we do that by simply appreciating them, accepting them as they are and celebrating who they are.”

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