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Columnist
Can babies be ugly? (There's no photo evidence in my case)
By Burt Constable | Daily Herald Columnist

Babies aren't ugly, it's just that sometimes they don't give us the perfect smiling photograph. If this kid had seen Burt's ugly photo as a newborn, he wouldn't be so grouchy about his picture.

 

Courtesy Lisa Schramm of Bella Baby Photography

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Published: 9/16/2010 12:00 AM

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Like you, I know a couple who recently had one of those beautiful babies. Cubicles near me sport framed photos of adorable, smiling bundles of joy, wrapped in pink or blue. People gaze at the round, cherubic faces with the sparkling eyes and infectious grins and gush, "Oh, how precious," "Simply darling" or even "Gorgeous."

If your desk were to boast a photograph of a round-faced, toothless grandparent with a wisp of hair and an ambiguous gender identity, you might not hear the same confirmations of beauty.

"As babies, they are all beautiful," says photographer Shannon Curcio of Curcio Photos in Schaumburg.

There are those babies who possess the ahhh-inspiring look worthy of gracing baby food jars and diaper packages, and then there are those babies who, while there is nothing wrong with them, are - well, ugly is such a harsh word so let's just say unphotogenic.

I'd show you what I mean, but my mom burned my first baby photo.

It was an act of love, not vanity. She reduced my big keepsake photo to ashes, Mom says in her defense, only after she was confident that it didn't show how I really looked. Apparently the delivery process beat me up so much the doctor had to retreat to a neutral corner before he was allowed back to slap me.

"That's what I call the baby mug shot," says Lisa Schramm, area manager for Bella Baby Photograph, a company that takes the time to capture more thoughtful photographs of newborns at many area hospitals. Schramm, who was shooting newborn photographs Wednesday at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights, says she'll take dozens of photos to get the CD of 15 or 20 the parents will buy.

"We get the one-eyed look all the time. We call it the 'Popeye,'" Schramm says. "A lot of babies will have their middle fingers sticking up. Dads think that's hilarious."

Yawns, wayward tongues and squints can make babies look odd in a photo, even to adoring parents.

"I don't think they use that one for a birth announcement, but they like it for them," Schramm says.

Parents sometimes share the blame by slapping a ribbon or headpiece on a baldy's scalp.

"It's like a satellite dish sticking off the baby's head," Schramm says.

And a few babies are "cute to the mom," Schramm says politely, "but you wouldn't see that on a Gerber sign."

Photos taken of me days after birth, while probably not rising to the level of beautiful, were much better than the newborn shot, says Mom, who quickly adds that she loved me right off the bat and most certainly would have kept that newborn photo if it appeared I would always resemble a cone-headed Sylvester Stallone from those "Rocky" movies.

Popular TV comedies such as "Seinfeld" and "Friends" got away with episodes about ugly babies. And a 2009 Time magazine article cited a study involving baby photographs and asked, "Is an ugly baby harder to love?" I checked it out. Mom loved me when I was an ugly and unaware baby just as much as she loves me now that I am a gorgeous (see column photo) and delusional (read the gorgeous line again) adult.

"That's the beautiful thing about babies. Parents see the beauty," Curcio says.

Babies with birthmarks, floppy ears, unexpected hair, mushed noses, giant melons or even scars from lifesaving surgeries make for wonderful photographs, Curcio says.

"Sometimes the goofier-looking kids are more interesting," she says, immediately trying to find a gentler word than goofy. "Many of the faces that really hold your attention are not standard faces."

No one is perfect.

"I had a giant stork bite on my forehead as a baby," Curcio says, adding that it might still show up if she gets really, really angry. She appreciates baby photos of her with that mark. That's who she is.

There is nothing wrong with a beautiful baby. But we less-than-beautiful babies still have our moments.

"Even a baby who doesn't look like a commercial baby, when they smile it's a beautiful thing," says Curcio, who has captured plenty of those moments. "That is something we can all embrace more: the beauty of imperfections."