For someone who loves to travel, I have hardly done any international traveling. And being on social media a lot, I feel like I am constantly seeing others jetting off to Spain, Thailand, or Australia. Meanwhile, I’ve never even been to Canada.
Though I haven’t been to Canada, I am worldly cultured enough to know that the men there are attractive, they are into leaves, and they pronounce “out” like “oot.” Then some forgo the English all together and just speak French. Side note: I am not very worldly cultured, but I was excited to have my ignorance slightly improved.
My partner, Luke, and I decided to remedy this coming soon here in October. The only problem was that I didn’t have a passport. I used to have one from when I studied abroad in Mexico during college - a fun fact I rarely bring up in fear that someone will try to speak Spanish with me. I never renewed it because I have a tendency to be forgetful and lazy.
I would need to get this corrected ASAP so that I didn’t have to shell out major bucks in order to have the passport rushed. I could hardly afford the damn thing as it was. One-hundred and fifty bucks?! Didn’t they have some sort of starving artist discount?
Anyway, the first stop would be to get my passport photo taken. This would tack on another $15. I tend to complain about money a lot as I’m living by the skin of my teeth. Then I try to remind myself that I am lucky enough to travel for free.
I stopped at Walgreens one Sunday afternoon and when I walked in, the photo counter had all the lights off and no one was there. I figured I’d have to come back but I asked the cashier upfront just in case. The cashier called over the intercom to have a manager meet me at the photo counter.
When I saw this manager, I felt a slight twinge of concern. She was a larger white woman who had cornrows. The braids on top of her head had her natural brown-haired color and while the braids coming off her head had been dyed black.
She also looked like she might have been the type of person who ate cigarettes rather than smoked them. I hate admitting my judgmental thoughts about her looks, but it made me worry that if she thought SHE looked okay in photos, how could she take a proper photo of me?
This reminded me of last fall when I had to get a new driver’s license. I especially wanted this to be good as my previous photo made me look like a serial killer. No joke. With my shaggy hair, creepy wide eyes, and an awkwardly open mouth, I looked like I would stab someone with a shiv any minute.
In the days leading up to my visit at the DMV, I started practicing my face in the mirror. When the actual photo was taken and I saw the result, I was relieved to see that I looked like a nice, normal version of myself.
So, I had taken this DMV lesson and once again practiced my “look” in the mirror before heading to Walgreens. Thus, I had some kind of hope that this could turn out okay. The frightening woman busted out a little digital camera as I stood in front of a makeshift blank wall. She snapped the picture and showed it to me.
It looked so awful on the little screen that I almost stopped breathing. She asked if I’d like to take it again. I said yes. I mentally noted what I could have done wrong and tried to make adjustments. We repeated the process and the next photo looked just as horrifying.
I suggested doing one last shot. She now got annoyed. We tried another time and it looked just like the rest. It’s fine, I told myself. I picked one at random and the scary manager completed the process.
When I got to my car, I opened the little card containing the 2”x2” photos. I realized this was quite possibly the worst photo I had ever taken. I looked like a whole other kind of criminal - like someone who would get high on meth and rob a store with pantyhose on their head.
Or maybe I looked like someone who you’d need to take a restraining order against because he kept looking through your window… while wearing pantyhose on his head. Either way, whenever I looked at this photo, all roads lead back to pantyhose on my head. I hated it.
I immediately texted Luke telling him about it - hoping that with him being a therapist, he could say something magical to help me get over it. Instead, he said the partner thing: that all passport photos sucked and that I was beautiful.
As the person who has chosen to be with me, he has to tell me those things. Besides, it is easy for him to say. His passport photo is handsome. He looks like a former frat boy who never lost his cool.
After shooting down his obligatory partner comments, he wrote, “Two thoughts: 1) one bad picture does NOT reflect how you look, and 2) it might be good to figure out how to loosen the power that physical image has over you.”
Dammit. He did say the therapy thing and, like a good therapist, it wasn’t necessarily convenient. Therefore, I ignored it and went to the gym to get my mind off the whole thing. But I couldn’t get it out of my brain.
Halfway into my first exercise, I panicked and called a different Walgreens. When a guy in the photo department answered, I lied and said that when I went to the other store, the woman didn’t let me see the photo first and I wanted to know if they’d let me come to their store so that I could get a replacement. I HAD OFFICIALLY GONE TO CRAZY TOWN!
The guy said that I would have to go back to the original store to get the photo taken. When I hung up the phone, I felt really conflicted. Was I justified for wanting this photo retaken? Or was I acting like a vain douche?
I decided not to decide whether or not I’d go back to the store. I would at least give it a night to think it over. It’s often best to sleep on such things anyway. Plus, I needed to go back on a different day in hopes of avoiding that weird manager lady.
That evening, I thought about Luke’s words - how it may be good to loosen that power over my physical image. I hadn’t thought of myself this way. With transparency being important, I’ve never been the type to alter my appearance - erasing blemishes, wrinkles, etc.
While some photos are fun, spur-of-the-moment things where I’ll snap a few shots and leave it at that, there are others when I want a particular shot. I will take 150 photos, narrow it down to ten, narrow it down to five, consult a friend, test out some filters, and then slap one on before posting the picture.
Even the spur-of-the-moment shots get filters. I love filters. They make the photos pop. And I love making things pop. But when I got this ugly passport photo, one of my first thoughts was, Maybe I can make it better with a filter. This was most likely a sign that I had gotten too used to having control over my photos.
I knew what happened when I got that photo. It hurt my sense of pride. When my sense of pride got hurt, I felt a loss of control. When I lost that sense of control, I felt really vulnerable. And when I felt vulnerable, I acted like a bit of a not-so-rational person (aka crazy).
By the end of the night, I still didn’t have any answers. Rather I came to a crossroads. I could either keep the photo and give up that sense of control. Or, I could go back to the store and continue the douche-trajectory.
The next morning, I went back to look at the photo and something else ate at me: the idea of taking this sucker through customs. What if they took one look at this and not let me in their country - maybe even have me detained for suspicion of criminal activity (“I swear, officer, I don’t know how those pantyhose got in my bag!).
Pantyhose jokes aside, I did have this legit worry that every time we could have the wonderful opportunity to travel internationally, I’d feel shitty about myself when I handed over my passport. My ugly photo would kick off our exotic vacation via shooting my self-esteem in the foot.
I didn’t want that. And when I couldn’t shake that feeling, I decided to go back to Walgreens and ask them to redo it. I wished I had been strong enough to not let one terrible photo get to me like this, but I just couldn’t give up that sense of control.
When I sheepishly walked back into the store, I saw their sign promoting passport photos. The example featured a young woman whose only crime would be nothing other than some sexy espionage. I wanted a photo like hers.
The woman who worked the photo counter asked if I needed any help. I explained the situation honestly to her - not lying at all. She asked to see the photo and when I showed it to her, her head jerked back slightly.
“Oh, yeah,” she said. “Let’s retake this one.”
I had never been so happy to have someone tell me I had taken an ugly photo. I took this as a sign that I wasn’t being SO crazy after all. When the rightful photo lady has that initial reaction and doesn’t hesitate to redo it for free, then you know it was rough.
When she took the new photo and let me see it, I still didn’t look like the girl on their passport promotion sign. The bags looked heavy under my eyes and you could tell just how asymmetrical my face really is (how I hide this in other photos I will never know).
She asked if I would like to do another one but I told her no. I went in there thinking I had to either give up control or be a douche. But when I saw the new photo, I knew that I could do both… give up some control and NOT be a douche. Like most things, it’s not “either/or,” it’s “both/and.”
Come to think of it, Luke never even talked about being a douche when he gave me advice. That’s not how he talks. That’s how I talk - which goes to show THAT’S HOW MUCH I CAN INTERNALIZE SHIT!!!
And that’s really the goal here: figuring out how to maintain a healthy self esteem by not internalizing shit. I think Luke was right. It helps to settle into a bad photo knowing it’s not exactly how we look. But it doesn’t work very well when the photo is so awful that it makes you want to barf on your cat.
We don’t need to have terribly shitty photos lying around as way to help us have a more healthy self esteem. But I learned from this is that the opposite is true as well. We don’t need to have “perfect” photos to get a healthy self esteem either.
In fact, having the power to have nothing but perfect photos can wreck our self esteem even more. If it didn’t, I could have probably reacted to this situation with a more rational approach rather than panicking, texting people, and calling up other stores and lying.
One month later, I received my new passport in the mail. When I opened it up, I found the photo to look even worse with some distorted coloring. But I genuinely didn’t worry about which crime the person in this mugshot had committed. Instead, I thought about meeting some nice Canadian gentlemen to make oot with while rolling around in some leaves.
Edited by Glen Trupp
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