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!