School photographs

Another post created for the ‘Remember the Time’ Blog Hop. 

RTT Blog Hop

This week my daughter, newly enrolled into sixth form, had her photograph taken by the official, school photographer. She looks good in it; she looks natural, beautiful and totally herself. I was amazed when I saw the sample print; this is a first. We have many good photographs of my lovely daughter, but none from her secondary school; none until now.

Whoever said that the camera never lies was lying. A good photograph is a rare and precious thing; a good school photograph practically unheard of. I have perhaps one or two good photographs taken of my children at school, mainly from when they were so small and cute that it would have been hard to make them look otherwise. The greater part of the historical record of my own school attendance is best left where it is, gathering dust in the darkest recesses of my parents closets in another country.

Not all school photographs are dreadful, but most are embarrassing. The first photograph taken of me by a school photographer shows an image of a happy and smiling if slightly chubby little boy dressed in the close fitting uniform of my primary school.


Except I was not a boy. Everyone who looked on this photograph commented on my lack of femininity. I was unperturbed; at six years old it was my heart’s desire to be a male of the species when I grew up. I was delighted when my mother gave me a two piece swimsuit as I could discard the top half and pretend. The skirts and pinafores that she made me wear from time to time were an irritation.

The next school photograph that I remember was taken a few years later and included my older sister. As I wish to stay on good terms with her I will not include it here, but it records a moment when we sat side by side, looking awkward. Again I was short haired and chubby in close fitting clothes. How do some young children manage to look cool? I would wonder if style is genetic except my mother was always on trend; how she must have despaired over me. Perhaps the tight clothes were a denial on her part that I carried as much weight as I did. I certainly loved my food.

At some point after this I decided to grow my hair and the moment was captured in school for posterity. If I didn’t look so world weary in this it might have been considered an improvement on the previous effort. The shadows under my eyes suggest more cares in the world than a nine year old should be aware of, and why oh why did I button that shirt up to the neck?


Moving on a few years and photographs of me in another uniform appear as I moved up to grammar school. Despite the restrictions of sensible pinafores or A-line skirts topped by woollen jumpers and ties, some of my peers looked good. I did not. As a late developer with bad skin my school years were spent trying to remain invisible. I believe that I largely succeeded. If official school photographs of me exist at this stage then I do not have the copies. I know I was there though because of the existence of images such as this one. The hair has gone again but not the goofiness.


I remember as a teenager going round to friend’s houses and looking with interest at the school photographs that their parents proudly displayed. How, I wondered, did these people manage to look natural and happy when recorded in this way. Even now when I am put in front of a camera my smile is overdone, my head held at the most unflattering angle and my body arched to resemble the shape of a potato. Please reassure me that the camera can lie.

In a way I am pleased that these old photographs exist for us to cringe and laugh over. Much of childhood is forgotten as we age with only the particularly memorable, happy or traumatic events etched into our conciousness. I do though remember each of the days when these photographs were taken. I wonder what that tells me.


8 comments on “School photographs

  1. I often hope that the camera lies…my school photos are pretty dreadful. On the plus side, you can take comfort in the fact that you make a pretty cute girl AND boy…not everyone can say that! 🙂

  2. I wish I had a memory like that! I can’t remember hardly anything before 10 years old. And, even after that it is shaky at best what I can remember. Gotta love the old photos.

  3. The Waiting says:

    Your last paragraph nails it. I remember looking through my old school pictures when I was in college and just hating that they existed. Those memories of adolescent awkwardness were just too close. But now I’m so glad that I have them because they help me to remember a time when the worst thing that could happen to me during the week was to blink during my one shot at getting a good picture.

  4. Jen Anderson says:

    I had the same hairstyle as you did when you were 9. Though I think I may have kept it quite a bit longer.

    It’s such a comfort that so many of us cringe over our school pictures. At the time, you’re just sure that everyone else is so much more confident and looks so much better than you do. But that’s just not true.

  5. I also want to believe that the camera lies, or at least tends to capture a sliver of the whole picture. In the same way that a camera can never capture the full beauty of a panoramic view, I like to think that a bad picture doesn’t mean that is how we look… it just isn’t telling the whole story.

  6. Love the humor and tenderness in this one. When you say “shows an image of a happy and smiling if slightly chubby little boy dressed in the close fitting uniform of my primary school.” I caught myself thinking: Hmm, I thought this was a female writer. I paused and looked again, and thought, slightly feminine male, but cute… great smile, freckles and nice eyes… your next line flipped me back and made me laugh. Great job!

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