I’ve never particularly liked school picture day.
As I wait in line with the rest of my class, my mind traces back to one particular morning in kindergarten, when I desperately needed to look like Barbie for my school picture. Now, I’m aware that 4-year-olds can tend to be a bit … theatrical, but this was different. My poor mother had failed to transform my hair into a perfect bun to match my pink Barbie dress. Deeply disappointed, I wailed, screamed and rolled on the floor hysterically for an hour. Somehow, I survived. My picture showed no evidence of the dreadful morning I had endured only a few hours before, and I’ll admit it—I looked quite adorable.
“Next in line … next!” A man with a camera stares at me with a bored expression on his face.
Oh, whoops. It’s my turn.
I snap out of my kindergarten reverie, and fast-forward to reality—10 years later. Now I am a teenager, and truthfully, I am 99 percent sure that everyone in my class freaked out this morning about looking perfect for their pictures. It’s no different than it was back then. Except now, we obsess silently. We pretend as if we rolled out of bed looking this way, as if we didn’t wake up an hour earlier than usual. In my case, I overslept with only 20 minutes to spare and had no choice but to go to school without washing my hair. My day-old curls resemble more of a rat’s nest. Essentially, I’m the only authentic one here.
I eye the seat in front of me. Its size looks more fitting for a 4-year-old, or maybe just for someone with smaller hips. Ugh. Why did I eat that Pop-Tart this morning, again?
I hope there’s nothing in my teeth. Why didn’t I check? Will the photographer think I’m weird if I ask him? I look at his name tag—Joe.
I guess I’ll just hope for the best.
I sit down in the too-small seat and fold my hands awkwardly in my lap.
“Turn your legs to face more towards that direction. No, the other way. Not that far,” Joe says, somewhat impatiently.
He walks over to me and turns the chair because apparently I am unable to follow simple commands. I feel like a 4-year-old again.
“Okay, good. Don’t move. Now, look at me. Tilt your head up. Bring your jaw forward. More!” Joe demands.
Does this man want me to resemble the Crimson Chin? What is going on here?
“Beautiful. Oh, wait. Uh, your … chest is showing. Pull your shirt up a little,” says Joe, who is trying not to look at my cleavage.
Since I’m using so much effort to jut out my chin, I end up maintaining eye contact with Joe while simultaneously attending to my shirt dilemma. I can’t even imagine how ridiculous I must look in this moment. Suddenly my face becomes very hot. This is so awkward.
“Great. Now, give me your best smile. Say, ‘I love peas!’ Hold it there. Don’t blink!” Joe squints into his camera.
I love peas?! What ever happened to the traditional “Cheese?” I must be getting pranked. Or this is a nightmare. Yes, the latter. I’m tempted to pinch myself.
I try to make my smile seem natural, but it’s so forced that my cheeks start trembling. I fully expect my cheeks to fall off at any moment now.
I blink at the last moment right before the camera flashes, so I figure I’m safe. How bad could I look, realistically?
Relieved, I stand up and wait to receive this school year’s ID card with my new photo on it.
I pick up my card and stare at it, horrified. My eyes are in that half-possessed, half-fluttering motion of blinking. And not only does my chin appear abnormally large, but some sort of dark food is sandwiched between my front teeth. I guess eating a Pop-Tart wasn’t the smartest idea.
Out of all the days in the year, wouldn’t someone do the noble thing and tell me to go find some floss? Or do my girlfriends secretly want me to have the least attractive picture in the yearbook?
I’d give anything to look like Barbie again.