Chick Wit: Picture Day: School ritual for a new age

I read in the paper that nowadays, the companies that take school pictures will retouch the photos to fix the kids' cowlicks, missing front teeth, and freckles.

In my view, this is not progress.

Reportedly, 10 percent of parents request such retouching.

The other 90 percent love their children.

Apparently, some parents like to see their children as they should be, instead of how they are. Or maybe they're Photoshopaholics.

I can't think of a better message a parent can send a child than, "You're almost good enough!"

The retouching costs $7. I would pay the parents who request the retouching $7 toward their child's eventual therapy bill.

This doesn't mean that some kids wouldn't benefit from retouching or even that some kids aren't downright ugly. Who doesn't look ugly, at least at one point, during the Wonder Years?

Me, especially.

I look back on my school pictures with a queasy feeling, and that's as it should be.

Let me explain.

I was smokin' hot until I turned 2 years old, then I hit a wall. My perfect baby teeth fell out, only to be replaced by front teeth stolen from a woodchuck. They used to call them buck teeth, but that would be kind. As a toddler, I could have built a dam.

Also, my nose, which started out cute and little, grew and grew and forgot to stop. It popped out like Pinocchio's, and I'm not lying. I've said it before, the Flying Scottolines have big noses. Mother Mary says that we get more oxygen than anybody in the room, and she's right. If we breathe in, you're all dead.

Plus, my eyes, which looked so big and blue when my nose was little, only looked smaller as my nose got bigger, and then I got thick glasses, so I looked like a mole with corrective lenses.

The proof is my school pictures, which reflect all those hideous stages of my life, all the zits and tinsel teeth and pixie haircuts and horrible clothes. Still, I don't think Mother Mary would have retouched a single picture. She loved me the way I was and she would have spent the seven bucks on cigarettes.

Plus, retouching school photos would have taken all the fun out of Picture Day. Do you remember that excitement? In the Scottoline household, Picture Day was circled on the calendar, and it was a big deal. Brother Frank and I wore our best clothes, and we got free combs at school.

Excitement!

It's always exciting to get something free, even a comb. Now, we watch Oprah, where she gives away her favorite things, for free. Cars, TVs, lasagna pans. You know what my favorite thing would be?

Being Oprah's favorite thing.

But back to Picture Day. I remember long lines of kids leading to a mysterious black curtain set up in the gym, and when you were finally ushered behind the curtain, you were in the presence of the photographer, as personable as the Wizard of Oz. He would order you to smile, blind you with a flash, and get you out of there, reeling.

Then you would wait and wait until pictures came in, which was another day of excitement. There would be the various photo packages to choose from, and you'd end up with 383,898 wallet-size photos, even if you knew only four wallets.

When those photos came back, if you looked good, you showed everybody. And if you didn't, they all knew.

The dreaded retakes.

I was always a retake. I dressed up for Retake Day, like a nervous batter on a second strike. Retakes were a mark of kiddie shame. All of us baby trolls, lined up and dressed to the nines, when nobody else was. And no more free combs. They knew we weren't worth it. I would have been a re-retake if they had it, but there was only so much they could do, then.

Now, I'd ask to be retouched.

You have to be at least 50 years old to be Photoshopped.

In other words, only adults can act childish.

But those days are gone.

My school pictures, as bad as they were, were one of about 40 pictures that exist of me as a child. Kids today already have 7,384,747 photos taken of them, even before they get to Picture Day. In fact, kids have their own cameras, webcams, camera phones, and Flip videos.

Nowadays, kids get to be the Wizard of Oz.

And you know what?

That is progress.


Lisa and Francesca's essays have been published in "My Nest Isn't Empty, It Just Has More Closet Space" and "Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog." Lisa's new novel, "Save Me" is available in bookstores now. Visit Lisa at www.scottoline.com.