They sat in pretty gold frames on the china cabinet. In the fall my mother would carefully add the new 5x7 picture and ensure the glass was completely spotless to display the latest image that represented the current school year.
It started with the note from school announcing what date Picture Day would be. Depending upon age and gender of the child there were many topics discussed: what to wear, how to do your hair, glasses on or off, and time in front of the mirror practicing the perfect smile.
One by one our photos were taken. Sit up straight, tilt your head, lift your chin, look this way... we would obediently follow the photographer's instruction until that moment when the shot was taken and our image forever captured.
The day the proofs arrived we clutched the envelope to our chest until we had a private moment to view it before the comments of classmates began: "let me see yours", "oh, they're so good", "mine are so bad" and sadly "I hate how I look." It started in small amounts in elementary school but came in unrelenting torrents in high school. The older we got the more we seemed to became critical of how we looked.
In the last 20 years there has been a 356% increase in non-surgical cosmetic procedures. The number of women seeking surgical options has grown 471%. Men are requesting plastic surgery in numbers never before seen--up 273% from twenty years ago. All this to the tune of 12 billion dollars.
Despite all these efforts 80% of women report being dissatisfied with their appearance. This message is being passed along with alarming consequences when you consider that symptoms of eating disorders are occurring in rising numbers of children in kindergarten...yes, kindergarten.
Consider this: given the current level of expenditures it is estimated that with an additional 9 billion dollars we could provide water and sanitation for all people in developing nations. Last year consumers in one country spent 8 billion dollars on cosmetics. One country...8 billion dollars. If we were to re-direct some, just some, of that money more people would have access to a simple cup of clean water.
Responding to the increases in those seeking cosmetic procedures, a representative of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery said people are "investing in themselves once again." We can be fully supportive of the concept of investing in ourselves but we need a broader approach. Like reading more books, pursuing a different career, enrolling in a new class, paying greater attention to our health, making more time for family, visiting a shut-in, volunteering, and donating our time and resources to causes beyond ourselves. Those investments pay off far better dividends.
Following my mother's example, each fall I added my daughters' latest school picture to older ones in the frame. Beyond the smiles or special hairstyles is a snapshot in time--not of a picture-perfect image--but of girls growing, learning and becoming the person they were meant to become. As much as I appreciate these pictures there are others I love looking at so much more; the ones where they are reaching out in love to others on a mission team, the ones where they are playing their hearts out on the soccer pitch, or the candid shots, not posed for the camera, but lived in the moment. Each picture is a window into a much wider story that has little to do with looks and everything to do with living. That's my outlook.