The Awkward Beauty of School Picture Day Is Ruined

school picture daySchool picture day: The phrase is still powerful enough to give me butterflies. What will I wear? Do I smile and show my braces, or keep my mouth shut? Is it cool if I wear a side-ponytail? It was a veritable rite of passage every year, K through 12. Picture day was exciting for so many reasons: We got out of class, we were able to line up shortest to tallest (I was always in the front, score), and weeks later we got to help our moms pick out what package to purchase. And when the photos arrived weeks after that, we got to watch our dads replace last year's portrait in his wallet with this year's, got to listen to our sisters make fun of our cheesy grin, and came to realize that, no, a side-ponytail is never, ever appropriate.

Clearly, I have a soft spot for the good ol' school mugshot and I'm saddened, nay, dismayed to hear that there are people out there trying to take it away from us.


The Wall Street Journal reported that school picture portrait purchases are down across the country because parents already have thousands of terrific digital photos of their amazing kids already and they feel like they don't need a mediocre shot of Junior looking a bit cross-eyed in front of a cloudy blue drop cloth. I see where they're coming from, but I argue that there's nothing more classic than a school picture, and it should be adored.

They capture a moment in time like no other photo can. Those staged ones of Sally at the beach, her blonde curls blowing in the wind, her cheeks sun-kissed ... that's beautiful and nice and all, but those photos ... there's something too pristine about them. Too perfect. Throw a kid on a stool in front of terrible background, add a seedy photographer with a mustache and some half-ass lighting, and you're going to get picture gold that you'll treasure for years.

Take my first grade portrait, for example. My front tooth is so loose, it's practically hanging out of my mouth. I'd cut my own bangs a few days earlier in preparation and resembled Lloyd Christmas. My blue corduroy jumper was missing a button -- I'd lost it at recess. I looked disheveled. Homeless. Possibly deranged. And it's the best photo of me ever taken.

It's the one my family loves most. Mom wasn't there to barrette back my "bangs", no one noticed I was missing some hardware, and Dad wasn't around to pull out the tooth that was hanging by half a thread. I looked like a first-grader.

I'd include the photo, but no one can find it. Point here goes to the parents who opt out of the school pics, I suppose, because the thing about these old school print-outs is that you can, well, lose them. They're not digitally saved in a folder on a desktop. Huh. Maybe I'm more the one that needs to get with the times than hold on to an ancient tradition ...

But I can't let it go. Keep school picture day alive! Junior and Sally are gorgeous in all those photos you've snapped over the years, but the school portrait captures them on their own. It's a photo of them after they've stood in line, trying or not trying to look their best, and it's 100 percent them. I feel like that moment in time should be cherished, not abolished.

Do you order your kids' school photos? Do you think they're important, or am I making too much of it?


Photo via Anosmia/Flickr

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