Yearbook Portrait: Fact or Fiction?

Disclaimer: Not my actual daughter.

As we close in on the end of the school year, students anxiously await the arrival of the yearbook. Picture Day earlier in the year was an adventure. The night before, my daughter carefully planned her outfit, accessories, hair and make up for the big day that would generate an image to be immotalized in the yearbook and on her student ID/library card.

She has inherited my husband’s hair, which means it has a mind of its own, rebelling against humidity by curling and frizzing. Picture Day was a humid day.

But so what?  Even with some fly-away strands, she looked gorgeous in her jewel-colored shirt with matching necklace and earrings. But I would think she is beautiful wearing no makeup  and sporting a house elf’s dirty pillowcase. Her sometimes-Hermione Granger-frizzy hair is part of who she is, and I love her that way.

Besides, it could be worse. When my husband was in elementary school, he, too, had a Picture Day. But he forgot about it. So no carefully chosen shirt and tie. No tidy Alfalfa hair style. And to make matters worse, his photo sitting took place right after phys ed.  So there he was in a ratty T-shirt, uncombed hair, and all sweaty from gym. Now I didn’t know him back in elementary school, but I’ve seen that look many times since: after mowing the lawn, working on his vintage motorscooters, cutting down trees. To me that school photo more accurately captured my hubby than any other photos in unnaturally spiffed-up clothes with an uncomfortable, forced smile. Granted, I think most parents would prefer that their children appear in their Sunday best for photos. My mother-in-law said she was horrified when she saw the picture of her unkempt son, yet that photo has become the subject of one of her favorite stories to retell.

So who are we? The shiny, happy people (thank you, R.E.M.) who appear in portraits? Or the wacky, imperfect folks in the candid (and sometimes, formal) shots?  Are we the accomplished, carefree Facebook personae? Or real people with flaws, fears and problems?

It’s easy to compare ourselves with Photoshopped images of perfection and feel that we don’t measure up. Or to read tweets and posts about how wonderful life is for people we think we know…and we think our lives are lacking. A line from one of my favorite poems, Desiderata, says “If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.”  The fact is that most people want to put their best foot forward in a public forum. I know I wouldn’t want to wear my heart on my sleeve or air my dirty laundry on my Facebook page. We’d probably be surprised to learn that everyone has real lives behind the posts and photos, and they are not all perfect and painfree.

I would rather see a yearbook comprised of candid photos that show the true personalities of the kids. Those are the people we will remember in decades to come. I’ve heard it said that the true test of character is what you do when you don’t think anyone is looking. Take for example, the older couple who unwittingly recorded themselves on a webcam as they were trying to figure out how to use their new computer. The video captured their love, innocent sweetness and sense of humor that they might not have shared if they knew they were being observed.

Be the person you are when no one is looking. And say “cheese.”

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