Passing on the Passport Photo

For the past couple of years, I’ve stared at my passport photo and wondered who that person was.  Her hair was short and a different, darker color.  She looked younger.  Sometimes, the security guards at the airport would stare at the photo, then at me, then back.

That all stopped when my passport expired.  I’d need to apply for a new passport and get a new photo, even if I wasn’t going to be moving to Canada like most of my liberal friends if the election went south.

“Go to one of those postal centers,” my husband told me.  “They take passport photos.”  He loves to try to boss me around, especially any time international travel is concerned.  He considers himself an expert since he’s traveled more than I have.

I went to a postal center.  As it turns out, they don’t take passport photos any longer.

“Go to the drugstore,” the guy behind the counter at the postal center told me.

I went to the drugstore, happily enough, since I’d be able to tell my husband he’d been wrong about the postal center.  In the corner of the drugstore, where people take their photos, you can see all kinds of bright, happy family pictures of people who never seem to stop grinning with their blindingly white chiclet teeth.

“Over here,” the photo guy told me.

He flashed a couple of bulbs.  I tried to keep my eyes open.  I also tried to look reasonably happy, even though I hate having my photo taken and I knew I’d never look as good or as happy as all the people with the big smiles and chiclet teeth.

“Does this look OK to you?” the photo guy asked a few minutes later.  I’d spent about 10 minutes hanging around the drugstore, waiting for my photo to be developed.  Fortunately, they had a magazine display and I’d been able to sneak a look at People magazine, which I almost never look at, except when I’m waiting in the dentist’s office.  All I can tell you from that experience is that celebrities might look a lot better than the rest of us, but believe me, they have a lot more problems.  Would-be celebrities are even worse messes.  (I’m talking about you, Lynn Spears, mother of Britney and Jamie Lynn, babbling about your great family life.)

But, anyway.  There was my photo.  It looked pretty dismal.  Kind of like every bag and wrinkle on my face had been spotlighted.  I looked like I had just washed up on Ellis Island or something after a potato famine.

But, wait.  Who cared?  This wasn’t vanity.  This was a passport photo.  Every time I lurched off a long flight, sleep-deprived and jet-lagged, with blotchy, swollen ankles and the latest communicable disease, didn’t I look precisely just that bad?  Yes, I did.

So I took the photo and filled out the passport application and sent it off.  Job done.  Congratulations.

Except for one thing.  I just got a notice in the mail a few days later.  My photo had been rejected.  Overexposed, the accompanying letter said.  Get a new one.  Or don’t travel anywhere, no matter who wins the election.

“Have you ever heard of anybody getting a passport photo rejected?” I asked my husband.  No, he hadn’t.  I stared at the photo.  Sure, admittedly, let’s be honest, it looked like shit.  But, what did they mean, overexposed?  Since when had the State Department gotten into photo aesthetics?  Were they hinting that overexposure had something to do with terrorism?

Good lord.  The week is young, but the stock market is tanking and it still hasn’t rained and I appear to be the first American in history whose passport photo has been rejected.

Overexposed?  Hey, the State Department should check this week’s issue of People.  If anybody’s overexposed, it’s Lynn Spears.  Not me.

(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)

8 comments… add one
  • Ruth, you always come through for me.  I look at your blog when my day job has me feeling crappy and low (which is every day…wah wah…poor little me).  But you always brighten up my day.   So hilarious.  And your words always ring true.

  • Ellen Link

    Ruth, I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and agree with Julie. You never fail to put a smile on my face! Especially with this one, as I had my passport picture rejected as well, not once, but twice! I’m a Belgian national, and the Belgian authorities are even stricter! My first rejection was due to overexposure, the second one because you couldn’t see my shoulders! Never knew shoulders are vital in people recognition for terrorist purposes, but there you have it! 🙂

  • ruthpennebaker Link

    Your shoulders weren’t visible, Ellen?  What kind of photo did they want?  I shudder to think.

    So glad you both think I’m entertaining.  I just try to report on the oddball life I lead.  I’ve been surprised at how much I enjoy blogging; in fact, I’ve now been doing it for a year.

  • Cindy Link

    Ruth — This is excellent and I love the overexposed analogy.  Not sure how it works, but hope you submit this to KUT and read it on air.


  • Hilarious post.
    Overexposed — what the hell?
    Insult to in’jry.

  • Me Link

    I just googled about this topic – just today I had my photo rejected twice at the post office – first time they said the background was too small and my head too big (I do have a big head – I can’t buy hats) – then I took it back to the shop – they resized the photo – I took it back and they rejected again because they said no smiles were allowed in photos – sure – that is why the other people at the post office said they has smiling photos and my daughter and son in law just got their passports with smiling photos – I think I was being discriminated against.  So now I have to pay to have another passport photo taken.

  • Winston Link

    When my Bank of America card was up for renewal, I discovered that they now included an ID photo on the card.  But when I went to the bank to have the photo taken I was told I must remove my hat.  Now I never appear anywhere without a hat or cap.  Since the photo was not for Dept. of Motor Vehicles ID purposes, I found it silly but they were adamant.  I withdrew my money there and recamped at another bank!  And I guess I’ll remain inside the USA.

  • Cody Link

    I’ve never read your blog before, but after a Google search about rejected passport photos I ended up here. As I read this post I was struck with how good writing can make even the most ordinary things entertaining and humorous. 🙂

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