My cousin called me the other day and asked me if I could do her a favor and take her son’s senior yearbook photo for him.
“Photographers are SO expensive,” she said. “Luckily, the kids can submit their own photos, wearing whatever they want and posing however they want.”
I found myself feeling very envious of the kids of today. Back when I had my senior photo taken for the yearbook, there weren’t any such options. We were given appointments to show up at Rheault Studios on Elm Street in Manchester and were told, per penalty of death, to look neat and well groomed. And the boys had to wear jackets and ties.
I remember how stressed out I was the week before my appointment. I tried on every piece of clothing I owned, and even some of my mother’s. Nothing seemed right.
“How about this?” I asked my mother as I modeled a pink flowered blouse.
“Too busy,” she said. “A solid-colored sweater with a nice necklace is all you need. After all, the photo is going to be in black in white anyway.”
I hadn’t thought about that. No matter what color I wore for the photo, it was going to be black, white or some shade of gray in the photo. I finally chose a light blue sweater and a heart-shaped locket.
The day of my photo, I had to walk to Rheault’s Studio directly from school. I’d worked hard all day to keep my shoulder-length hair in a perfect flip. There had been endless trips to the ladies’ room, where I’d sprayed my hair until it was so stiff, if I’d fallen down a flight of stairs and landed on my head, I wouldn’t have hurt myself because my hair would have acted like a helmet.
On a normal day, I would have been wearing pink lipstick, rose blusher, green eye-shadow and eyeliner, but one of my friends told me that colorful makeup looked terrible in black-and-white photos. “You don’t want to look embalmed,” she said. “Go for the totally natural look instead.”
So there I was, walking across Granite Street Bridge, heading toward Elm Street and feeling less than confident with my stiff hair and colorless naked face, when something completely unexpected happened…it started to rain. By the time I reached Rheault’s, I looked as if I dunked my head in a bucket of lard.
I remember climbing a flight of stairs up to the studio and meeting two of my classmates who were coming down. They took one look at me and started to giggle. Needless to say, I was getting the feeling that my mother probably wasn’t going to be ordering a case of 8x10 enlargements of my senior photo to hand out to the relatives.
The studio was small and dark. The photographer, a man with a friendly voice and a smile to match, greeted me and then said, “Um, there’s a mirror over there if you want to comb your hair and freshen up a bit.”
I was afraid to look into that mirror. When I finally gathered the courage to open my eyes, I saw a stringy-haired, pale-faced girl in a rain-splotched sweater. Even worse, I realized that I’d forgotten to wear the heart-shaped locket. I looked positively drab.
“Great,” I muttered under my breath. “If I look this bad in living color, I can just imagine what I’m going to look like in black and white.”
I combed my hair. The teeth on the comb made a row of lines through my wet hair, especially on my bangs, which were drooping down to my eyebrows. No matter how hard I tried, I still ended up looking as if my hair had just been plowed in preparation for crop planting. I finally gave up and took a seat in front of the camera.
The photographer took a few serious, pensive shots of me and then said, “Now give me a big smile.”
I managed a tight-lipped smirk.
“No, I want to see some teeth!” he said.
“I don’t want to show my teeth,” I protested. “I never smile with them showing…because of the gap.”
“Don’t worry, I can touch up the gap,” he said. “No one will even know it’s there.”
My eyebrows rose. The thought of finally seeing a photo of myself smiling with even, gapless teeth was enough to make me forget about my limp hair. I flashed a toothy smile at the camera.
It seemed like years until I finally received the proofs of my photos. Anxiously, I opened the envelope. My mouth fell open in horror. The photos were hideous, horrible, even worse than I ever could have imagined. My eyes looked like two oysters on the half-shell, and my teeth as huge as a horse’s. My bangs had more ridges than Ruffles potato chips.
“You’re being silly,” my mother said when she looked at the proofs. “I think they came out really nice, especially this one right here.”
I studied the photo she’d selected. Out of all of the proofs, it was the best of the bunch. But that wasn’t saying much. I had wanted to be immortalized looking like Miss America in my yearbook, not like Seabiscuit.
The finished photo that went into the yearbook didn’t please me at all. For one thing, the gap in my teeth hadn’t been retouched, as the photographer had promised it would be, and I also looked as if I had one solid eyebrow running across my forehead.
Now that I think about it, maybe I shouldn’t have agreed to take my cousin’s son’s senior photo. I may not be able to suppress the urge to put him through the same torture I went through when I had my photo taken.