Should Your Child Be as Airbrushed as a Supermodel?

Filed under: In The News

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That shiner your kid got last weekend on the playground? Abracadabra! It's gone! Same goes for that cowlick that makes him look like Alfalfa from "The Little Rascals."

A wave of the hand, a click of the mouse and -- poof! -- it's a good hair day after all.

The New York Times reports photographers are increasingly doctoring school photos through the magic of Photoshop and other forms of photographic wizardry.

Shhh, listen carefully. You can almost hear thousands of photojournalists flopping about the floor in convulsive fits of indignation. Ethical lines are always shifting, but doctoring photos remains one of the Seven Deadly Sins in photojournalism. (It replaces gluttony.)

Drew Nash, a photographer at the Times-News in Idaho Falls, knows photo editor R. Ashley Smith would hand him a blindfold and cigarette if he so much as erased a pimple on a kid's face.

"In the newspaper world, you just don't do that sort of thing," Nash tells ParentDish. "It's a matter of honesty and ethics."

But school portraits? That's when the lines get as blurry as if you were using the Photoshop smudge tool.

"That's a whole other area," Nash says. "You're not serving up those images up to the public."

Even in portrait photography, however, Nash tells ParentDish, doctoring photos is a slippery slope. Physical imperfections are part of being human. How long can you remove little flaws before you have created a fictional character, rather than a portrait?

"You don't, for example, want to mess with Cindy Crawford's mole," Nash tells ParentDish.

You also don't want to send the signal that kids aren't good enough as is, Dr. Bradley S. Peterson, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute, tells The New York Times.

"What supports healthy growth of the child and capacity to love themselves is parental idealization, that this child is perfect, and the apple of one's eye," he tells the newspaper.

All that goes out the window if kids think they need to be "fixed."

"It can inadvertently send a message that 'I perceive you as less than perfect and not ideal,' " he tells The Times.

Nonetheless, The Times reports, school photos are becoming as airbrushed as the covers of Vogue.

Parents are being asked if they want their kids' teeth whitened or their scars, moles, zits and braces erased.

Joseph Sell, the New York area manager for Lifetouch, tells The Times his company takes about 30 million school photos a year -- and alters about 10 percent of them.

The percentage goes up during the self-conscious middle school years, he adds. By students' senior years in high school, he says, about half the students want photographers to rearrange their faces.

"The media and magazines have exposed our marketplace to people that are well groomed and well cared for," Sell tells The Times.

So blame the media? Well, blame the other media, Nash tells ParentDish. Many photojournalists -- never to be confused with the fashion photographers who shoot supermodels for magazine covers -- still stay on the right side of the ethical line, he says.

And, younger kids may still prefer the traditional ethics of photojournalism over 21st century special effects, as well.

The Times tells the story of Michael Terzuoli, a second grader who brushed back his hair for a school photo at Bay Ridge Prep to reveal a nickel-size birthmark on his forehead.

His mother, Tatiana, tells The Times she asked him what he would do if saw his photo without his distinctive birthmark.

Terzuoli's answer: "I'd rip it up."

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.