School Picture Day 'Retouch' Trend Sparks Outrage Among Parents

News & Politics
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Alexandra Lozovschi

Parents are speaking out against a recent trend of editing school portraits to photoshop out any perceived flaws, The New York Post is reporting.

The practice is fairly common and is included in most school-day picture packages, photography company Lifetouch told The Post. But, while the idea is to produce perfect snaps that families can enjoy, some moms were outraged to discover that "crucial" elements of their kids' looks had been edited out.

Scroll for more details and for the parents' reactions.

Freckles Removed In School Photo

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According to The Post, one instance where school photos were edited to the extreme left a 36-year-old Tampa, Florida mom dismayed after her son's freckles were removed from the pic.

“I gave permission for ‘basic retouching,’ which would be removing blemishes, and they removed all of his freckles instead,” blogger and photographer Kristin Loerns told the media outlet, noting the pictures were taken by Lifetouch.

The incident occurred in November 2020, with the mother-of-two complaining to the company on Twitter: "Don’t change things that are actually a part of a child’s face."

The situation was later resolved when Lifetouch agreed to resend the non-edited image to the Loerns family free of charge.


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Teeth Whitening, Blemish Removal & Other Retouches

A more recent case involving the same photography company was brought to The Post's attention by 43-year-old Maryland mom Jennifer Green. Last month, the travel blogger and social media administrator was "shocked" to learn of the firm's portrait “retouching” services as included in her seven-grade daughter's school-picture package.

According to Greene, the offer she received included editing options, such as teeth whitening, skin-tone evening, and blemish removal, all for an extra $12.

“I completely disagree with [retouching a child’s school picture], because it’s teaching kids that they need to look perfect all the time and that they can change [a perceived flaw] with the click of a mouse,” Greene, who is mom to 12-year-old Madeline, told The Post.

Just like Loerns, Greene also fired off on Twitter: “I’m going to need someone to explain to me why @Lifetouch offers PHOTO RETOUCH for KIDS school pics?!”

While she didn't hear back from the company, Lifetouch explained in a statement to The Post: “Our goal is always to authentically capture each child we photograph. Photo retouch is an entirely opt-in service that customers choose to add on to photo packages. Most, if not all, school photography companies offer this service and it’s an expectation as an available option for schools.”

Hearing Aid Photoshopped Out

One case that has sparked a substantial amount of outrage online was signaled by TikToker Whitney Rose, who is the mother of two hearing-impaired toddlers and manages the @TheseDeafKidsRock account on the platform. According to Rose, whose 3-year-old son recently had his school picture taken by a different company, the boy's hearing aids were airbrushed from the pic.

The mother-of-two expressed her frustration in a video that got 2.2 million views on TikTok.

“These are my son’s hearing aids. They help him hear, they’re a part of who he is and he likes them,” Rose said in a follow-up clip this September. “It’s sending a message to him that part of who he is, his hearing loss, is something he should be ashamed of.”

Photoshopping Controversy

While parents who have had unfortunate experiences with edited school photos argue the practice can make kids feel pressured into looking picture-perfect, Manhattan event and professional portrait photographer Heidi Green says it's the families who usually ask for these retouches.

“The parent feels like they had to get [the flaw] fixed in order to enjoy the school picture or to make the child look better,” Green, who is herself a parent and has been taking school photos professionally for 10 years, tells The Post.

Recounting one instance when she was asked by a client to airbrush a life-long scar caused by a birth defect on their daughter’s face, Green said: “I felt bad about it. I smoothed it out a little bit so that she’d be happy with the picture without changing much."

As the photographer explains, there's a big difference between standard photo editing -- such as fixing visible scratches, blemishes, messy hair from playing, eyeglass glare, or doing minor teeth whitening, which Green offers for free -- and changing someone's permanent characteristics.

“Removing a permanent scar to me would be like saying, ‘Can you make my child’s eyes blue?’” Green said. “Because why would you want your kid to look in the picture like they don’t look in real life?”