As kids across the globe are settling into a brand-new school year, I am reminded of a back-to-school tradition that has some students beaming with excitement and others looking for the nearest door. I am referring to school picture day – the one day where every student is expected to look sharp and smile for the camera. As a perfectionist, this day was torture for me. I was one of those kids who searched for an escape.

School picture day dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. It is a tradition that parents love; they enjoy watching their children grow and mature in photographs. From kindergarten to 12th grade, my mom proudly displayed my goofy mug shot in metal TG&Y picture frames. She either placed them on top of our T.V. console or strung them across the wood paneled walls in our home. She lovingly carried my face in her purse, while Dad transported me in his wallet. Additional copies were reserved for extended family and were used as Christmas card inserts.

As if plastering my photo at home and forcing it upon our relatives wasn’t bad enough, it would also be placed among my classmates in the yearbook. Because our school was small, every student, from kindergarten to senior high, was represented in one book. The whole town would ultimately have access to this album of photos and school-age memories.

That’s a lot of pressure – oh how I hated picture day.

For starters, living in Oklahoma meant there was a good chance it would rain on picture day. Hours of hair prep and layers of Aqua Net hairspray were simply no match for the thick, wet humidity. Next was the stressful decision of what to wear. Earlier years (kindergarten through 2nd grade) were easy. I loved to wear dresses back then, so I simply picked out one of my favorites. The older years were tough. The older I got, the more my body changed – finding tops that didn’t draw attention to my maturing physique became a challenge.

In Junior High I wore glasses. At first, I was self-conscious, but friends assured me the thick, round spectacles looked cute. The compliments boosted my confidence, so I decided to embrace my fresh, new look. But when picture day rolled around, I was terrified my coke bottle glasses would cause a blinding glare and spoil the photograph. I guess I didn’t think the photographer was experienced enough in lighting, angles, or body placement. Nevertheless, I took matters into my own hands. Just before the camera clicked, I tilted my head slightly. “Crises averted!” I thought to myself. No glare here!

It took about 6 weeks for the packets of pictures to arrive. I recall seeing mine and thinking the photo wasn’t the most flattering, but I was proud for being so innovative – there was no glare. I took them home to my mom, who as always, fussed over them and replaced the prior year’s photo with the new one.

Every school has a retake day to accommodate students who were absent on picture day or who simply want a second chance at a decent photo. My parents and I were okay with my pictures; I had even exchanged the wallet-sized ones with friends. So, you can imagine my surprise when I heard my name called over the school loudspeaker as someone who needed to report to the library for retakes!

Who made the decision I needed to have my picture retaken? It wasn’t me, nor was it my parents. I ignored the instruction to report to the library. It must have been a mistake – or was it?

Yearbooks were published and distributed during the last weeks of school. It was customary to scan the pages in search of your picture then pass it to friends and teachers to sign. The goal was to acquire as many signatures and well-wishes as possible on the blank pages. I planned to follow that custom, but there was a problem. The right margin of page 33 displayed my first and last name in printed, black letters, but my photo was not there. Instead, the words, “Picture Not Available” filled the square where my photograph should have been. But my picture was available, I thought to myself. I had proof.

Thirty-five years later and here I am still wondering:  if I would have followed the school’s recommendation to participate in retake day, would my photo have made it into the 1986 yearbook? Maybe – maybe not. But one thing is for certain, if it had, I wouldn’t be blogging about it today. Below is my 8th grade school picture. It may not be the best picture. It may not have been good enough for the school yearbook. But none of that matters. I love it.

What is your school picture story? Post your favorite (or not-so-favorite) school photo in the Forum!

Junior High School Photo


10 thoughts on “Retake”

  1. I believe that top you are wearing is one that mom made.

    I hated picture day too. I never looked good. My senior picture is the only one I was pretty happy with. Thank God for touch ups!

  2. *lol* You are freaking adorable in that picture (’80s feathered hair notwithstanding 😉 and the head tilt was genius!

    I could so relate to your disappointment at seeing your missing pic in the yearbook after all that trouble. It reminded me of my experience with my senior picture. I spent all summer learning to sew under the tutelage of my beloved grandma so I could create my first (and, as it would turn out, only) dress specifically for my senior portrait. I don’t know what the fabric was, but it felt like a cross between silk and suede. I chose two of my favorite colors—olive and mustard—along with a paisley fabric with autumn hues for the cloth tie at the waist. I could not believe my luck when I found two-tone suede shoes in the EXACT same olive and mustard colors of my dress! They wouldn’t appear in the pic, of course, but every detail was perfect from head to toe.

    Senior year was special because the school hired a professional photographer. I showed up at the studio decked out in my self-styled dress and matching shoes. I was accustomed to being disappointed with photos of myself, but this time, I was amazed that I liked almost all of the results when I received the proofs. There was only one that looked ridiculous. The photographer had made me strike a power pose with my arms crossed and my head tilted downward. It felt awkward and looked even more so in the picture. No matter, though, I had plenty of other options to choose from. I indicated the picture I wanted in the yearbook and forgot about it for the rest of the school year.

    Then, as my senior year was nearing its end, I snuck into the publications office with one of my best friends, who also happened to be the yearbook editor. We cracked open one of the boxes of yearbooks that had just arrived and flipped to our respective pages. Imagine my horror when my eyes alighted on the ludicrous-looking power-pose photo! I still cringe at the thought decades later.

    Every few years when we move and I come across the yearbook while packing, I take another look in the hopes that I had overreacted. Nope—it still looks just as awful to me as it did then.

    That said, it wasn’t as dreadful as my sixth-grade photo. I had made the mistake of going to Supercuts the day before, and I wound up with agonizingly short bangs and feathered sides that made me so furious with Supercuts I vowed to never return again. I haven’t seen that picture for years but can still remember how silly my hair looked (although that one, unlike my senior photo, would probably look cute in retrospect).

    1. Oh my goodness, Melissa! You KNOW you have my curiosity up wanting to see that senior picture!! Did you ever find out how in the world the silly posed picture made it to the yearbook and not the others? My senior photo in the yearbook is not the one I wanted posted either. I didn’t like those so that time, I actually DID get retakes. I went to a photography studio and had them done – took the one I wanted placed in the yearbook to school and…you guessed it, they posted a different one. Thank you for your stories! And I am sure you were adorable and beautiful in your photos! Viv

      1. Viv, haha, the yearbook has been packed away somewhere ever since our last move, so I can’t share the pic—thankfully! 😉 I have no idea how the wrong photo got into the yearbook—other than that the photographer made a simple mistake, but out of the 20 or so options, why did he have to choose the worst one?!

        That is so funny about your senior picture—I wonder why there’s so much incompetence around yearbook pictures! I don’t think they realize what a major event and how fraught with stress the experience is for kids and teens.

  3. I just remembered another story about the dress. When I was working at UC Berkeley after graduating from college, one of my coworkers lost everything in a house fire. They were collecting donations for her, and I very unsentimentally decided to donate my dress because I could no longer fit into it (I made the mistake of failing to put elastic in the waistline 😆). She was tinier than me, so I thought it might fit her, but she probably never wore it, and I’ve always regretted that decision as I no longer have the only dress I ever made, which is one of the threads connecting me to my cherished departed grandma. I will always have the memories of her teaching me how to cut out interfacing, tie knots, and use the sewing machine, though.

    1. Oh no! I know what you mean about getting rid of items and then regretting it later. My husband and I moved a lot during his active-duty military years. A purge accompanied each move. We are preparing, once again, for a big move in the next few months. This time, however, I am having difficulty letting go of some things. I think I will keep them. 🙂

      1. Definitely go with your intuition on what to keep or purge. Every time I haven’t done that, I’ve regretted it. I’m now remembering my collection of Salinger paperbacks from high school that I gave away during one move. I’d replaced them with nicer copies and thought the old paperbacks were marred by garish highlights and my enthusiastic scribbles in the margins. Now, I wish I could read those scribbles!

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