I came across this article recently, reporting that some school photography companies in Australia offer to ‘airbrush’ school photos to cover up blemishes such as pimples or scars. The article includes a comment from Prof Louise Newman, president of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, of which I am a member, and I completely agree with her.
As a mother, and as a child psychiatrist, I am very concerned about the increasing emphasis in our society on having to look perfect. I’m not saying that it’s a new thing, and certainly people have always strived to meet the cultural ideal. What I do think is new though is that this is gradually invading into youth and childhood, and a major contributor is the use of technology to create an unattainable ideal. The use of undernourished models in magazines is bad enough, but when we then start using computers to change people’s shape, size or appearance, it takes it to another level. Children – and adults – then see a computer enhanced figure being promoted as pretty, or beautiful, or successful and there’s no way that they can ever live up to that.
People may think that removing a scar, or acne, from a child’s school photo is no big deal and that I am overreacting, but I think that it gives our children the message that they are not good enough the way they are. It tells them that their parents will be prouder to show off a picture of them without their ‘blemishes’, and therefore that they are less acceptable the way they are. And this contributes to poor body image and poor self esteem, leading to poor mental health.
Let’s allow our kids to be kids, including spots, scars, missing teeth and bad haircuts, and accept them unconditionally.
Updated 30/03/11: There is a post on this same topic with lots of comments on Mia Freedman’s blog ‘mamamia’ here