Doctoring photographs to make people look differently 'damaging to young people's mental health' - Sarah Todd

BOOKING has opened for our daughter’s university graduation ceremony and she telephoned home to tell us about the photography service being offered.

For an additional price students can have their formal cap and gown photograph digitally altered; a service that includes ‘complexion enhancement’ plus teeth and eye brightening.

For heaven’s sake; what has the world come to? If university achieves one thing – apart from debt and the actual degree – it should be to set our young adults out into the world with a sense of self-confidence and worth. There seems something symbolically so very wrong with starting out on the next stage of their lives clutching a fake image of themselves.

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If ever there is a time to have a ‘this is me – like it or lump it’ attitude then surely it is now? If their parents or the university staff themselves haven’t inspired these students to embrace who they are and feel comfortable in their own skin – or teeth or eyes – then they have failed. Full stop.

Filters are creating a false idea of image.

Thankfully, The Daughter agrees. Although she did say the amount of tea she has drunk while completing her dissertation means her teeth could do with a helping hand to sparkle.

“But it wouldn’t be me,” she thankfully concluded. Perfection is sticking at a degree course. Perfection is growing up into a kind and considerate adult and doing grown-up things like getting a job. It has nothing to do with physical appearance.

Such doctoring of photographs is only the tip of the iceberg. These ‘enhancement’ offerings are relatively cheap – £7.50 each – but they do highlight another problem. Those who can afford – or will run up debt – to go through life paying for the added extras.

A little research has shown that many universities offer more sophisticated photography options, including airbrushing pictures to make graduates look ‘slimmer and healthier’. Yes, it’s possible to pay extra to reduce the effect of ‘bulky and unflattering’ academic gowns.

Again, this is nothing short of horrific. Surely the billowing gown is symbolic of academic achievement; something to embrace rather than worry whether it makes your figure look less than perfect for a set of overpriced photographs.

Latest YouGov figures, conducted in February 2021 on a sample of 2,271 UK adults aged 16 or over, show that over half (51 per cent) of Britain’s report feeling under pressure to have the perfect body. Women (61 per cent) are significantly more likely than men, at 40 per cent, to say this. Nine in 10 of those questioned say that in today’s society physical appearance matters.

This correspondent must have been living under a rock, because now the blinkers have come off there is a sudden, scary realisation of how many milestone family occasions are now digitally enhanced.

From hatches to matches it’s the norm now. Baby portrait photographers now ‘enlarge’ and ‘brighten’ eyes, as well as offer skin retouching. This includes removal of scars and blemishes to achieve ‘more beautiful and glowing skin’ as well as ‘colour enhancement’. Does this mean the pasty-faced kid is made to look like they’ve been on a sunbed? It’s fundamentally wrong for any new parent to be less than satisfied with what they’ve got. If a child has a scar the whole family should embrace it and tell them they’re fab just the way they are – not instigate covert cradle-side cover-ups.

If we’re messing around with the way our children look from birth no wonder so many of them are growing up with, as modern society calls it, body issues.

Looking back at this writer’s 1970s primary school photographs, the hair is vividly carrot-coloured. Would the modern parent be put under peer pressure to get it digitally toned down?

Classmates share lost front teeth, eggs on the forehead from stray cricket balls, scraped chins from falling off their bikes. These were all part of our childhoods, what made us who we turned out to be. As an aside, the best one in the album is my brother’s class photo with the naughtiest lad doing a double thumbs up and the teacher’s dog slouched, fast asleep, next to her. Happy times.

Proms, 21st birthdays, engagements and – of course – weddings have all fallen victim to photo editing.

Surely the wind catching a veil, a grandmother’s clashing hat, or a grumpy uncle not smiling are all part of the day. But no, nowadays they are sorted out – frowns turned upside down to smiles – and repackaged as our celebrity-obsessed idea of perfection dictates. Plump bridesmaids are no longer safe; with plenty of tales of them being digitally slimmed down so as not to spoil the snaps.

It never ceases to amaze how parents of girls in particular let them use filters on the photographs they upload to social media sites such as SnapChat or Instagram.

This is the beginning of the end and we should encourage them to a) find more worthwhile pursuits than taking selfies and b) use the hashtag #nofilterneeded as a means of communicating the authenticity of their photos and eschewing the fakeness of filters.

A final observation is that the very least graduates should expect is to be sent on their way emboldened by the university system.

Not pigeon-holed into our vacuous society’s expectations.

Failing that, they should take heed of the old saying that you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear – the woke brigade won’t like that, but it’s true – and concentrate instead on living life to the full.