True school memories gone in the flick of an (air)brush

     Border Mail Column Wednesday 13 April 2011

     Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is skin deep. Beauty it seems can be achieved with a little photoshopping and is now available for your children’s school photos.
     Looking back at my own school photos, frecklefaced and with slightly, well to be honest, very protruding ears I would have appreciated a little magic from the airbrushing fairy, but they’re a true record of me at that stage of my life.
     Some changes might also have been welcomed in the photo of my younger sister’s first day at school: she is beaming and I am there with my adolescent pout.
     What an awful thing to have done. Would it have hurt me to smile just a little?
     Probably not, and even though I have a copy of that photo I am not inclined to scan and photoshop it to change the memory or appease my sister.
     But, an edict from authorities at an exclusive girls’ school in Melbourne to digitally alter school photographs because some of the photos were ‘messy’ has reignited the whole ‘quest for perfection’ debate.
     Much to the surprise of the parents, who had not given their permission to have the photos altered, the images of their daughters were not just tidied but changed considerably with jewellery removed, hairstyles adjusted and in one case the student’s ears were changed.
     According to the photographer involved, proofs were returned to them with the images to be altered circled in red pen and a note requesting the images be photoshopped.
     In this case the parents were outraged at the changes, but apparently some parents and students are asking for airbrushing, with many of the requests coming from students already considered good looking.
     On the surface the requests appear innocuous, but psychiatrists, psychologists and sociologists as well as many parents believe the desire to achieve perfection goes well beyond skin deep.
     Child psychologist, Michael Carr-Gregg believes body image is the number one concern among young people and the photoshopped images feed society’s obsession of perfection with body image.
     And this obsession can now hit as early as the primary age which, those who have or work with little girls, won’t need a psychologist to tell them.
     The concern is not new.
     In March 2008 the Senate referred the matter to the Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Communications and the Arts (the committee) for inquiry and report on ‘the sexualisation of children in the contemporary media environment, including radio and television, children’s magazines, other print and advertising material and the Internet’.
     A number of recommendations were made including the reclassification of music videos specifically in regard to sexualisation imagery and funding for specific children’s networks.    
     While news of the follow up study is still to emerge some of the recommendations including advertising during children’s viewing times have been implemented.
     In 2004 Dove launched its campaign for Real Beauty to celebrate the natural physical variation in women encouraging us to be comfortable in our own skin, whatever our body type.
     Two years later it introduced the Dove Self Esteem fund aimed at shifting the perception for teenagers that when it comes to body shape ultra thin is the norm.
     Dove’s parent company Unilever was labelled courageous for implementing the campaign, but others labelled it hypocritical as it also promotes products to its male market through the use of sexualised images of women.
     But back here in the real world it seems most parents are happy to have a real photo of their children: freckles, collar slightly askew and with maybe a hair or two out of place. 
     Picture perfect.

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About Robyne Young

Writer, creative writing teacher, editor, columnist. Literary lover. Short story collections, The Only Constant and The Basket and the Briefcase available via website.
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