Arizona-based journalist Sam Walker sparked social media outrage this week when she tweeted about her young girls’ school photos. Apparently the school is offering various retouching services—including blemish removal, teeth whitening, and evening skin tones—and Walker is not alone in feeling this is ridiculous and possibly harmful.
The social media storm began on Monday, when Walker tweeted out a photograph of the school’s portrait order form. She circled the “Basic” and “Premium” retouching options, writing, “The girls have their school photo today and there is the option to AIRBRUSH the picture! […] What 8 yr old needs to be paranoid about an ‘uneven skin tone.'”
The girls have their school photo today and there is the option to AIRBRUSH the picture! There are two levels offered!! What the….?! Have complained! What 8 yr old needs to be paranoid about an “uneven skin tone” pic.twitter.com/6BGCx3FRZ9
— Sam Walker (@WalkerSam) October 28, 2019
The tweet has since been reshared over 3K times and liked over 14K times, receiving hundreds of replies and earning international media coverage. Most of the commenters were on Walker’s side about the services, with the top replies all agreeing that the offering is totally out of line and sends the wrong message:
Absolutely horrific. Is a school condoning this by using the company??
— Vizsla Dad and retired AFO. (@btc109109) October 28, 2019
That's absolutely disgusting!!
— Jo Frost (@Jo_Frost) October 28, 2019
An option to choose self-loathing. You can never pay too much for that.
— Bob Morgan #FBPE 🇬🇧🔶 #LibDem (@Bbmorg) October 29, 2019
This is appalling. My daughter has 9% full thickness burns and we have never attempted to hide her scars in photos. We just taught her that she is amazing as she is.
— A Better Way To Work With Home Owners (@HISalesAcademy) October 28, 2019
Others shared similar experiences from school photos and beyond, where their children had been retouched without the parents even being asked:
We got my daughters school photo back when she was 6. She’d been airbrushed !! Looked like she had makeup on
— Jane Attew (@jane_attew) October 28, 2019
My 3 year old had a scar on her face airbrushed out her nursery photos without anyone asking. It was really weird. We didn’t buy them.
— Cat (@OverBrexit) October 28, 2019
My daughter has a beautiful pale Irish complexion – so it was quite a shock to get the school photo proofs home and she appeared to have a very nice tan! #filter #primaryschoolphotos we declined to buy them – we like her with the skin tone she was born with – ridiculous
— cosfordfamily (@cosfordfamily1) October 28, 2019
Only a few replies came to the school/photographer’s defense, claiming that there’s no harm in giving parents the option, or that they wish the service had existed when they were in school:
I had severe acne in middle school. I begged my mlm to do the retouch every year and she finally gave in. That was my favorite school picture. So, no it's not needed for an 8 year old, but keep in mind, this company takes pictures of older kids too.
— chicky chicken (@chickchickrick) October 29, 2019
I often had a patch of eczema on my face when I was young, camera flash made it look even redder. I would have killed to have had it air-brushed out.
— Rachel Cockett (@RachelCockett) October 29, 2019
A couple of thoughts.
1) The form is likely a standard across K-12 for the company providing the service.
2) This might be someone's only chance to get a nice photo of their kid.
3) Some may order these and distribute to extended family. Don't want jelly on their kids face.
— Wes Linda (@WesLinda) October 28, 2019
That last reply seems to be right on the money. According to Metro, Walker’s husband actually confronted both the school and the photographer, both of whom defended the option. The school told Walker’s husband that these options are “standard practice,” and the photographer defended themselves by revealing that this form is used for older children as well, some of whom are self-conscious about acne.
Still, Tweets and comments defending the option were few and far between, with most commenters applauding Walker for rallying against the service and calling the very option of “evening out” your 8-year-old’s skin tone damaging and offensive. Whether or not you agree with the outrage, it seems school photographers should tread lightly when offering retouching services to the youngest age groups, as these options may be inadvertently sending the wrong message.