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Are School Pictures Inevitably Hideous?

Monrovia Mom reflects on her own embarrassing adolescent images as she struggles through school picture time with her own children.

I’m not sure if many copies of my worst school photos exist anymore, since (fortunately) I haven’t seen any of them in awhile. But their humiliation is eternally etched into my brain.

My Kinder picture had the blonde bowl cut, dead front tooth, and standard issue eighties striped T-shirt. Particularly in So Cal, I looked more like a Jason than a Jaime (meaning of course “Hi-Me”), but certainly not anything that resembled a girl.

Around first or second grade was when the enormous front teeth came in. And I began to have more authority over my hair. So it was longer, with split ends and a greenish hue from swimming.

In third grade my face and waist became very round, with big, crooked teeth and pink cheeks (seemingly from the heat that always accompanies school picture time). Paired with my bad perm and embroidered vest over a button down blouse, I looked like some 50-year-old Austrian immigrant.

I went through the feathered bangs and pleated-pants phases. There were days of multi-colored “stacked” socks and peg-legged jeans. And my height combined with early development and weight struggles left me in the back row, looking out-of-proportion in any full class photo taken through sixth grade, thankfully hiding what I’m sure I thought was a very attractive midriff exposing top.

In high school my fashion sense was so mixed up, looking at myself in yearbooks is like studying a case of schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder. I’d shift between outfits of clogs, thigh-highs and a short skirt, to a Hawaiian shirt and cut-offs, then round out the week with my school colors painted on my face for game night.

My style growing up was influenced significantly by pop culture. Saved by the Bell, 90210 and Alicia Silverstone each left deep impressions in my subconscious, along with my eclectic music taste ranging from the Beatles and Nirvana to Save Ferris and Aerosmith.

Kids I pass throughout Monrovia today definitely have Kesha, Lady Gaga and the Twilight series to blame for their poor fashion choices. I feel for them.

Poor young men awaiting their growth spurt wearing tight jeans that are falling off their backsides and pooling around their ankles. Girls with too tight shirts rolling up over love handles and tiny skirts resembling sausage casings rather than clothing.

And both genders appearing to be ready at a moment’s notice to rush off for a late night cemetery round-up, in black T-shirts, jeans, boots and eyeliner, somehow at least appearing unified, if not a little creepy and cultish.

Someday my girls will look back at their own adolescent pictures and wonder what they were thinking as they selected particular outfits, applied their makeup and transformed their hair into what they’ll consider an exact replica of whoever the popular girl of their time will be.

But I will suffer years of blame for the pictures they take now, I am certain.

Dani’s school took their photos before the school year began, and I see the genius of it now. Rather than leaving it up to her teachers to fix hair, wipe faces, and readjust wardrobes, then encourage all 22 4-year-olds in their class to wait patiently and smile on cue, the parents were asked to come in at their leisure and suffer the headache alone, in late August.

We spent several days before discussing wardrobe choices and hairstyle, and immediately following dressing and primping we were able to go straight to the school for the photos, before any amount of food or filth could find itself permanently printed in our albums for the rest of Dani’s life.

And already we’ve enjoyed the fruit of our labors. On Tuesday the pictures were waiting in Dani’s cubby when I dropped her off at school.

As I proudly showed off her gorgeous smile that morning at work, admiring her golden curls and how wise a choice the red shirt was for our blue-eyed beauty, it suddenly occurred to me that my parents likely felt similar pride with my first few school pictures. So what will Dani resent about this one?

There will be something, that’s for sure.

The flower on top of her head. She insisted on it, but, yep, she won’t like that once she’s about 11. And someday she’ll like her hair only to be straight. Maybe even short. Or she’ll ask why we picked a tank top, or why there were sparkles on it.

So Kara’s first ever school picture is coming up in about a week at Preschool, and I want to do my best to prevent her own scrutinizing of it a decade or more from now. She’ll insist on a dress, and I’ll try to be sure it isn’t a stained one.

But whatever I do with her hair, and however I scrub her face and hands, will all be subject to whether they are allowed to have snack or play outside before their session with the photographer rolls around. As the youngest class in the school, they usually go first, so I’m hopeful, but not kidding myself. Dani’s first pictures at FPC Preschool for some strange reason included a parasol, which I know I will be held accountable for forever. So we’ll see what happens with Kara.

At least I can take solace in the fact that once they start to hate these pictures they’ll already be making horrid hair and style choices that they’ll only be able to blame themselves for one day. And eventually they’ll be grateful they’ve overcome the awkward phases of growing up once they’re adults. Like I am now.

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