Picture day came last week in my school, and with it, the students in their shirts and ties, fancy dresses, suit jackets.
BAHAHAHAHAHA, No, just kidding. They came in their t-shirts with rude slogans and their ripped jeans and their bed-heads.
Which is fine. I mean, it’s school. I certainly don’t need to look any further than my own high school yearbook to see kids in my own generation who couldn’t be bothered to class it up for a day for their pictures.
But my gripe today isn’t with the kids (for a change). My gripe is with the photographers. Or maybe with society. More correctly, with society by way of the photographers.
For a low, low price, you can alter your stinky, horrible, eye-abrading face in the yearbook into something altogether prettier, normaler, and far less likely to shatter the camera lens. Remove blemishes! Lighten your teeth! Disguise and conceal your every imperfection!
Look. Memory is fragile enough to begin with, unless you’re one of those unfortunate souls shackled with an eidetic one. I can personally count on one hand the number of clear memories I have from before the age of 15; that’s specific memories of specific things with the faces of recognizable people and events which actually transpired. The rest is all cobbled together from secondhand accounts, like the time my dad tells me I locked myself into a high school locker while he and his buddies were playing pick-up basketball. I know it happened, but I have no memory of it. After 16 it gets better, but only just.
And it’s no great shock to learn that eyewitness testimony is some of the least reliable evidence that police have. People imagine things that weren’t there, or forget about things that were there. Ask two dozen witnesses of an event “what the bloody bollocks did you see here?” And you’ll likely get two dozen different answers. The big stuff is the same. But the details are all different.
All the same, though, our experiences make us who we are. Personally, I had acne in high school. Not soul-crushing face sores, but certainly a scattering of little eye-blisters dusting my face. You can see them in my yearbook pictures. It’s awful. But those pictures at least give an accurate representation of who I was.
But it’s 2015 now (and I guess this has been going on for a while, but I only saw this ad this year, so … once again, the party started without me), and the option is here to alter the fabric of reality for a few extra dollars. Sure, NOW, when everybody is looking at your yearbook picture from this year, they’re saying “where’d your swamp-creature face go?” But give it a few years, and instead of remembering you as you are, people will be saying “man, that guy/girl was pretty incredible-looking. I wonder why I didn’t try to jump his/her bones under the bleachers back then.”
Isn’t there a danger in screwing with our memories and our perceptions of ourselves, especially given that those things are already super screwed-up to begin with? And, furthermore, isn’t there enough of a problem with self-image and trying to live up to unattainable standards of beauty in our society in the first place, without feeling like I have to shell out extra dollars on picture day just to look normal next to my classmates?
But, Pav, you say, it’s just a little airbrushing. What’s the harm?
If we can reinvent the past, then it never really happened. If my face in my yearbook picture doesn’t look like a dog chewed on a piece of pizza, then for all intents and purposes, I never looked like that. A friend of mine swears up and down that once, his mother caught an injured squirrel and nursed it back to health, and that during that time, I came over to his house, tried to pick up the squirrel, and it ran amok, scrambled into my shirt, and I did a lunatic jig across his living room trying to get the critter off me. I don’t remember this at all. You would think an incident like that would, I dunno, leave indelible marks in your brain and your psyche like so many tiny rodent claw-marks in your torso, but nope. I’m not nervous around squirrels or chipmunks. I don’t wake up in cold sweats feeling critters scampering across my chest. For all the effect this incident has on my life, it may as well have never happened. I have re-invented my past.
Just like in Total Recall, where a mild-mannered guy gets the memories of an interstellar space adventure implanted in his grey matter; the truth gets re-written and spiced up a bit. And it’s been a while, but I don’t seem to recall things going so great for that guy.
Do I overthink? Probably. All today’s drivel is probably as likely the product of an exhausted brain trying to claw its way through the closing pages of my first draft and lashing out at anything even slightly untoward, like the boss blowing up and assigning extra paperwork and calling an hour-long arse-chewing meeting because the coffee was too cold.
But still. The implication that you could give your yearbook picture “Star Appeal.”
As if you didn’t already have it.
Or maybe it’s just that dorky kid’s smug grin and his stupid Adam’s apple. With its perfect soft complexion and ideal look.