Parents offended by school photo retouch trend: 'It's hurtful'

School photo touch-up offers have parents outraged

Digitally altering images sends wrong message to kids, Maryland mother Jennifer Greene says

Parents are speaking out about how their children’s school pictures are being retouched.

Whitney Rose, a mom of two from Utah, told Fox News that her 3-year-old son’s hearing aids appeared to have been “softened” out of his school photo. 

“When we got the pictures, I saw them and I was like, ‘OK, cute picture, but where’s his hearing aids?’” Rose told Fox News. 

Rose, whose two children and husband are deaf, runs a TikTok page and an Instagram profile advocating for the deaf community. 

When she saw the proof for her son’s school photo, Rose posted a video on TikTok comparing a “normal” photo of her son, where his hearing aids are visible, and his school photo, where his hearing aids are difficult to see. 

Rose told Fox News that at first, she thought maybe it was the “cheap piece of paper” that her son’s photo proof was on. 

Then, she considered it could have been a lighting issue, or maybe the photography company had used an editing tool that made the hearing aids more difficult to see.

“It almost looked like they had used a skin softening and brightening tool or something,” Rose said. “And that because his hearing aids were an orange color, that it erased them.” 

Whitney Rose, a mom of two from Utah, told Fox News that her 3-year-old son’s hearing aids appeared to have been "softened" out of his school photo. 
(Courtesy of Whitney Rose/@thesedeafkidsrock)

Rose said she thought, “Maybe I’m overreacting,” but as she talked with more people, including her husband and her son’s deaf mentor, they all agreed the school photo appeared to have edited her son’s hearing aids.

“He’s had hearing aids since he was 2 months old and we spend all day every day making sure that he feels proud of the hearing aids, that he knows that they’re not something to be ashamed of,” Rose said. 

“For somebody to take [them] away … it’s hurtful,” Rose added. 

Rose said she reached out to the photography company, Bell Photographers, and asked what happened to her son’s hearing aids. According to Rose, the company said they did not edit the photo and denied that there were any lighting issues or that they had used a skin softening tool on his photo. 

Bell Photographers owner Michael Bell also told Fox News in a phone call that the company did not retouch Rose’s son’s school photo. 

The hearing aids were difficult for Rose to see, according to Bell, because the company sends parents low-resolution images before they buy school photographs. Because Rose’s son’s hearing aids were an orange color that looked similar to his skin tone, the low resolution of the image made it difficult to see the hearing aids.

“We just don’t do retouching unless they ask,” Bell told Fox, adding: “You have to pay for it.”

He continued: “And even in that, we do just a very simple retouching…we don’t do glamor shots or anything like that, where they really do a lot of retouching.”

He added that the reason the company sends parents low-resolution photos is that he doesn’t want families to make prints without paying for the high-resolution image.

“We make a living selling pictures,” Bell said.

"When we got the pictures, I saw them and I was like, ‘OK, cute picture, but where’s his hearing aids?’" Rose told Fox News. 
(Courtesy of Whitney Rose/@thesedeafkidsrock)

He’s had hearing aids since he was 2 months old and we spend all day every day making sure that he feels proud of the hearing aids, that he knows that they’re not something to be ashamed of," Rose said. 
(Courtesy of Whitney Rose/@thesedeafkidsrock)

The company did send Rose a digital proof, which Rose said was “a little better.”

“But it still seems like they’ve flushed them out,” Rose said. 

Rose said that she decided not to buy the photos, but she still thinks about the effect the photo could have on her son as he gets older. 

“At some point… when he’s getting old enough to where he asks me, ‘Why aren’t my hearing aids in that photo?’ What am I supposed to tell him?” Rose added. “It’s just upsetting, hurtful.”

Dr. Mary Alvord, a psychologist and co-author of Conquer Negative Thinking for Teens: A Workbook to Break the Nine Thought Habits That Are Holding You Back, told Fox News that she doesn’t have “firm research” on the topic, but generally, “it is important for us to have accurate photos of kids and people in general.”

“Kids grow up with a distorted view of what celebrities, who have major touch-ups, really look like,” Alvord wrote in an email. “This feeds into kids and teens having unrealistic expectations of what they and others should look like. This can affect mental health, thinking they should have ‘perfect’ skin, ‘perfect’ facial features, ‘perfect’ body, etc.”

However, there are some instances where it might be OK to retouch a school photo, Alvord added.

“On the other hand, kids and teens, say with temporary acne, might welcome a touched up picture that doesn’t accentuate what they look like that particular day – for all the upcoming years to remember,” Alvord said.

Greene told Fox News that her daughter’s school picture hadn’t even been taken yet when she was given the option to retouch the photo.

“So you don’t even know what they’re going to do to the child’s photo,” Greene said. “So obviously I didn’t choose that and hers came home just normal.”

Jennifer Greene, a mom in Maryland, was shocked when she was ordering her 12-year-old daughter’s school photos and she noticed that there was an option for retouching. Greene and her daughter are pictured. 
(Courtesy of Jennifer Greene)

Greene told Fox that having awkward middle and high school photos is a “rite of passage,” and by retouching their photos, it says something to the child. 

“To actually retouch and change a child’s features, you’re basically saying you’re not good enough the way you are, so I’m going to pay to have you made better,” Greene said. “I just think that’s crazy.”

She added: “I don’t think that’s teaching them anything that’s valuable.”

This story has been updated to include a comment from Bell Photographers.

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