Beth Underwood: From a slew of posed school photos to a slew of selfies — sure, that works fine

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I overheard a couple of women talking about their kids while standing in the checkout line the other day. One of them pulled out a small photo album to show off pictures of her new granddaughter and family. While they “ooh’d” and “ahhh’d” and “isn’t-she-the-cutest,” a few things occurred to me:

A. I cant remember the last time I carried physical photos with me.

B. We didn’t even get the school photos ordered this year.

C. It’s probably a good thing Colton is self-sufficient.

Now before you start wagging your finger at me, accusing me of shirking my duties as a mother, it’s not my fault. (Spoken like a guilty child.)

Really, it isn’t! Because I filled out the order form and handed it to Colton, who put it in his backpack. Which was his first mistake. Have you seen the inside of his backpack? Not to mention that on the teenage guy’s ladder of importance, ordering school pictures ranks right up there with selfies with Mom. In fact — and no offense to the fine people who take school photos each year — school photos could arguably be worse.

At least most school photographers send proofs these days. When I was in school, we ordered them sight unseen, which was often how we wished they’d have remained: Unseen. These days, kids get picture proofs with a couple of poses, although the difference between pose one and pose two requires a magnifier. But at least we see the photos beforehand, and know whether or not to schedule picture re-take day before setting fire to the proofs.

Then there are the order forms. There’s really no such thing as a small package, to include any number of gift wallets (carried in the pocketbooks of mothers whose children turn in the order form) and exchange wallets, for swapping photos with classmates.

Which brings me to a couple more questions:

1. Does anyone manufacture those clear plastic photo sleeves for the model mothers anymore?

2. Do the photographers know of any teenagers who exchange photos with classmates?

For most parents and students alike, our photos — and faces — are scattered all over social media, sometimes accentuated with duck lips, much to my personal dismay. And lucky us. We can access those photos, duck lips and all, 24/7. How can the awkward school photo, complete with the seasick blue background, compete with duck lips?

I don’t think it can.

And I’ll admit it: the coming reality saddens me. Because there’s something special about that annual school photo. Or maybe I’m a bit nostalgic for the days of my own youth. If those warts-and-all two-dimensional snapshots sans the luxury of a do-over or a delete button were good enough for us, shouldn’t they be good enough for this generation? (It’s a rhetorical question. We both know it’s best if you don’t answer that one.)

At least I have the 1-inch proofs from this year’s photos to hold onto. Luckily, they were attached to the order form. And while we may not have frame-able school photos this year, we will have plenty of selfies. Because in exchange for forgetting to turn in the school photo order, Colton has agreed to an unlimited number of Mom-and-Son selfies between now and the next school pictures day. He drew the line at duck lips, though. And I wholeheartedly concurred, proving that although I may not carry around real photos in my purse, I’m clearly doing something right.

Beth Underwood is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines. She shares stories of everyday life that entertain, inspire, and encourage others. Her books include Gravity, a narrative nonfiction account of a small group of Tennessee National Guardsmen, and Talk Bourbon to Me, a lighthearted look at Kentucky’s native spirit. Drop her a line at, or visit her website at

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One Comment

  1. NikiDee says:

    LOL! I disliked each and every school photo I took. They should let the kids take their own. At least their part would be on the right side! Tell Colton that next year you’ll just draw a self portrait of him and send that to the year book! Ha!

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