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Picture Perfect Controversy Over Retouching Kids School Photos

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MIAMI (CBS4) — What do Abraham Lincoln, Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart have in common? Their portraits were all altered to make them appear thinner, taller and in the case of Lincoln, more heroic.  Re-touching photos is nothing new, but now it’s becoming more common for parents to make their children look picture perfect on print.

Kara McGinnis is a professional child photographer. She’s accustomed to touching up pictures that don’t turn out quite so perfect.

“The most common request is to remove acne from a child’s face or maybe to touch up a scratch that happened the night before,” said McGinnis.

Now touchups are easier than ever thanks to new technologies and there are a growing number of requests to work even more magic. Everything from removing braces to erasing signs of an accident or a medical condition.

“Certainly we’ve had all kinds of requests for re-touching,” explained McGinnis. “People might want to change their eye color or their hair color.”

It’s not just for high school kids either. Lifetouch, the company Kara works for, recently started offering correction services all the way down to Kindergarten.

Parents seem to have split opinions on the option.

“I see nothing wrong with it,” said one parent.

“It helps their self esteem when they take a look at the pictures and they’re proud of it as well,” said another.

Psychologist David Walsh said it’s not simple. “Think about the psychological impact of the child and saying, ‘oh sorry, you’re not good looking enough or handsome enough or beautiful enough to be in the photo as you are’,” explained Dr. Walsh.

Lifetouch isn’t the only company offering touch-up services, so does Sears, Wal-Mart and other chain portrait studios. And for less than fifty dollars, anyone with a computer can buy software that transforms their pictures.

“I think the inappropriate use is when we start to want to change how our kids really look,” said Dr. Walsh. He feels this practice deserves a close-up look from parents on why changes need to be made.

“There’s a temptation to want to have our kids be our report cards and if our kids look like the glamour shot, if they look like the movie star somehow that makes us look better,” said Dr. Walsh.

Walsh points out little changes are one thing, but be careful.

“The message that’s sending to kids is that you are not okay the way you are. We want to change you.”

Lifetouch said there are limits to what the company will do.

“We want to enhance the portrait itself yet not change the natural look of the child,” according to McGinnis.

It’s a policy Dr. Walsh agrees with and applauds.

“We need to strike that balance between using the technology in an appropriate way and misusing the technology for our own kind of, for our own purposes,” said Dr. Walsh.

Most basic retouching packages cost between six and ten dollars for blemish removal only. Premium retouching to whiten teeth, fix a bad hair day or remove a scar can cost as much as twenty dollars or more.

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