Editor's Query: Tell us about a time when ... a personal photo revealed something unexpected

Sunday, June 20, 2010; W02

It was near the end of my final year in high school when I received my senior class photo package in the mail. These shots, taken by a professional photographer, were the pictures that would mark the milestone of my upcoming graduation. Mom would be adding my portrait to the gallery on the wall that already included the senior pictures of my five brothers and sisters.

I was the first to see the package and immediately opened it to gaze at my face. Immediately, I realized that there was something wrong with the picture, but I couldn't figure out what. I called some of my family members over to look, and they couldn't find the problem, either. It took a few minutes of puzzled staring before I realized what had happened: In the process of touching up the photo, my birthmark had been removed. And my birthmark was no insignificant port wine stain; it covered a large portion of my face. I was sure it had been there in the proofs I had reviewed at the studio, but now it was definitely gone.

My initial reaction was: Wow, what an absolutely awesome touchup job! So, this is what I would look like without the mark that had made me so self-conscious throughout my childhood.

Then another feeling took hold. My family had always emphasized the positive side of my birthmark -- that it was something that made me immediately stand out from my classmates, the thing that defined me as unique, as special. I had accepted my looks years before, and the idea that a photographer would touch up my face because he or she thought it was unsightly offended me at some level.

But the allure of the altered photos was very strong. It was partly teenage vanity, but it also went deeper: Here was an image of a young man (me) who wouldn't draw curious stares or immediately be judged by his appearance. I decided to keep the pictures, but I wondered why my family hadn't seen the mistake right away.

Their answer was a testament to how they had helped me cope with my physical imperfection for 17 years: "We don't even notice your birthmark anymore, so you looked the same to us."

My senior portrait still hangs on the wall with my siblings' pictures, but I'm reminded every day I look in the mirror that I'm unique and that no professional touchup can change that.

Peter Kester, Springfield


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