What a Bad Photo Taught My Daughter

How an award and a bad photo gave me a teachable moment with my daughter. 

by melissa sodowick • More.com Member { View Profile }

My 17-year-old daughter called me after school. She told me to log onto her high school’s website and check out the homepage. 

“Huh?” I said.

“You’ll see,” she said. “It’s really embarrassing!  We can talk about it when I get home.”

I sat down with my laptop and typed in the high school’s web address. As soon as the page loaded, I could see the problem. It was a 3 X 5 photo of her. But not just any picture. It was her awful school ID photo. The boldface headline was impressive: “Senior is Awarded Big Brothers Big Sisters’ High School ‘Big of the Year!’”

I braced myself for her discontent about the picture. In spite of my child's wonderful attributes — smart, a big heart, and the desire to make a difference in people’s lives — traits that landed her the honor of mentor of the year in the first place, she puts undo pressure on herself for perfection and worries about what others may think. Throughout high school, there have been countless occasions when I’ve tried to assure her that she had studied enough for a test and then propped her up when a grade was less than she had hoped for. Regularly, I attempt to set her straight when she looks at herself in the mirror with a hypercritical eye and says things like, “My hair looks bad,” and “I look fat!”

“You’re hair looks perfect,” I say.  “Nothing about you is fat!” I add. “You’re beautiful.” 

Usually, it’s not enough. Like many teenage girls, she’s not easily reassured. But, she’s working on making changes to be less hard on herself. She says she knows what’s truly important and realizes that if she’s to continue as a role model for young girls, like her “little sister” in the mentoring program, then she needs to love who she is and not care what others think.

My daughter came through the door, dropped her keys and backpack on the kitchen table and grabbed an ice tea from the fridge. “I see you’ve looked at the website,” she said, glancing over at the open laptop. “The picture is pretty bad. Don’t you think?”

“It’s not about the picture. It’s about the honor,” I said.

“You’re not answering my question because the picture is horrible. You realize that hundreds of kids are gonna see it when they go online for their homework assignments,” sge said.

 “Okay, so it’s not your best picture,” I said.

There was no getting around this. She had a half-smile, a crooked one at best, and she was squinting with one eye like Popeye. It was the kind of picture that makes you glad it’s only thumbnail size and on an ID card that gets flashed infrequently. “You should be proud of your accomplishment,” I added. “That’s what people are going to remember.”

 “You’re right,” she said. “I’m proud of the recognition. Besides, it’s kind of funny.”

 Then she did something I didn’t see coming. She logged onto her computer and started typing, smiling the whole time. She tweeted to her followers: I really hope no one goes on our school’s webpage  #this pic took hours of photo shopping! 

Responses poured in. Friends congratulated her on being named Big Sister of the Year and then playfully teased her about the mug shot. With each message, she laughed. 

At dinner we had more fun. “Let me see if I can do the face,” my husband said, squinting with one eye and smiling awkwardly. He looked like Mr. Bean.

 “Hold that!” she said, as she ran to get her iPhone. She snapped his picture and tweeted it along with her ID photo. Family resemblance? She tweeted.

All night she came to me with messages from friends. “I never laughed so hard at a picture,” her best friend wrote.

 “I’m so glad you are having fun with this,” I said. “It’s really great.”

“You know who would find this funny?” she asked.

 “Who?”

 “My Little Sister,” she said. “She has a great sense of humor.”

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