My 8th grade school photo day was easily the worst of all school photo days in the history of the world ever. The day before, I had ventured to my mother’s hair salon asking to change my hair from the long, well-brushed, one-length style of my childhood for “wisps” – that new style of bangs that the pretty girls wore, all tendril-y and wispy and touchable. It looked fabulous on blonde cheerleaders.
It did not look fabulous on me.
But the hair stylist did not consider my frizzy, product-free, wisp-unfriendly hair. She just started cutting.
My forehead was now marred with these laughable half-bangs, faint bits of hair that jutted out in uneven directions like an ugly wet bird newborn emu, then finally curling into the center of my forehead from either side to form a perfect circle in the center. I had a circle of bangs on my forehead. This, coupled with a “natural blowdry” (she used a diffuser, people!) coerced my already poofy hair into a state of frizz never before seen within the confines of Westchester County. I could just imagine the finger/light socket jokes in homeroom the next day.
My father walked in our front door for our weekly visit that night, I took one look at him, and burst into tears.
It all made for quite the awesome 8th grade photo the next morning: Me with my puffy eyes made worse by the fat stripe of sparkly teal Maybelline eyeliner, a half-hearted closed-mouth smile, and of course those horrible, horrible wisps that never were.
Would I have changed it? Would you?
Today, according to the New York Times, parents are now retouching their children’s school photos. Eliminating scars or scratches, brightening teeth, taming frizz. You can even add a tie. Take out braces. Heck, one parent removed a congenital strawberry mark from her child’s face.
What better way to say I love you just the way you are, honey!
I always thought school photos served to chronicle your life. Your real life, not your fantasy life. Not who you wish you could be, but who you actually are: braces, puffy eyes, freckles, bike accident scars, frizzy hair and all. That’s the reality of childhood. It is imperfect.
Funny enough, when I look back at that horrible school photo of mine in my mother’s photo albums, what I see now is more than the worst hair ever. (Although it is hard to miss.)
What I see is a transition from sweet young 7th grader to made-up 8th grader. I see the dawn of wisdom and self-awareness. I see the beginning of me.
Edited to add: Ha! So many of you asking me to post the photo! The truth is I don’t have it here to post (that you know of). Maybe I’ll have a change of heart sometime. But for what it’s worth, my dad read this and said, “I remember that day. And you’re telling the truth.”