The Latest School Photoshop Scandal

by Elizabeth Ballou

Graduation photos are one of those unfortunate facts of life, like waiting hours for the campus laundry machines, or being late to your discussion section and having to sit next to that girl who cracks her gum way too loudly. Whether you're graduating from high school or college, chances are you've had to wrangle with bad hair and/or skin days in front of the photographer's flash bulb. But what if you could pay to make yourself look brighter, clearer-skinned — and thinner? Success Photography, which was hired by University of York to photograph its graduates, is offering "digital slimming" as an option, and students are less than pleased.

Plenty of schools have gotten themselves into hot water with school picture Photoshopping gone wild. Utah's Wasatch High edited pictures of female students to make them appear more modest, seemingly at random, and then didn't apply the same standards to male students. At least University of York chose a photography service that offered its students the choice. However, the options are getting a lot of flak on social media — especially the Digital Slimming and Digital Complexion and Smile Enhancement. The description of the former says that "the traditional graduation gown...can be bulky and unflattering. With advanced digital technology we can reduce the the gowns [sic] appearance making it more fitting to your shape," while the latter is described as "[removing] all imperfections such as blemishes, redness, or shine...we also enhance the whiteness of your smile."

Student Sophie Gadd was the one who originally posted pictures of Success' debatable options. Gadd told the York Vision that the digital slimming option was "playing on people's insecurities." In response, Success tweeted the following:

It's hard to say whether that's the truth, since there are no before/after images currently available. However, the very idea that Success would imply that such slimming is desirable is problematic, for a variety of reasons. In the UK, plastic surgery rates have increased 20 percent since 2008, and every other Brit (including 5-year-olds) worries about his or her appearance and weight. Apps like SkinneePix slim down the user by 5, 10, or 15 lbs. (SkinneePix says this is to "help you feel good"). Social media phenomenons like #FatShamingWeek pop up like cockroaches. Being hired to do something as simple as graduation photos, and then peddling a digital slimming add-on as an improvement, is not an OK move for Success. It sends the message that looking anything but perfectly slender in your graduation photos means your achievement is lessened.

Fortunately, Success appears to have withdrawn the service after complaints from the student union. But some Twitter users helped Gadd slim down her photo for free:


Images: Sophie Gadd/Twitter (2)