Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Photo Booth

With hindsight, it was never going to work out well.  Making a woman on the eve of her 40th birthday, directly compare the appearance of her current self with that of 10 years ago  was always going to be a dangerous undertaking.  Damn the passport office.

I kept putting it off.  Vanity prevailed. “I’m just going to get my roots done,” “I need my hair cut,” “My brows need threading”,  “EB had me up half the night, I don’t want the bags under my eyes to be the prominent feature of an image of me for the next ten years." There was always a reason why it wasn’t the right time.  In the end Husband got quite cross. “Do you want to go to Venice or not?”  In fairness, the situation was getting very

After a morning spent in the hairdressers covering the grey and removing 4 inches of length  (impulse decision), I presented myself at Snappy Snaps.   Snappy being the key word. ‘Move your hair away from your face and don’t smile’, were the rapid instructions.  I had a feeling it wasn’t going to be my best look. The bulb on the camera flashed before I’d barely had a chance to sit down.

The assistant proffered the camera to show me the shot. My mouth drooped down slightly at one side. Does it do that when in repose?  

“Oh no. I look dreadful.  Can you do it again?” I asked.

Take two.  Even worse. Droopy mouth again. Why can’t one smile? Surely we’d all look so much nicer on our passports.  I looked so unfriendly; even I wouldn’t want to be friends with me. 

“I’m so sorry. I don’t like that one either. Is it possible for you to try one more time?”   He sighed. I wondered if this was a common experience for him, particularly with women of a certain age.  Or perhaps not all women are as vain as me.

“Try to relax a bit” he said. This comment resulted in a severe case of de ja vu, mentally transporting me to the doctor's surgery and my recent smear test. (Not a good thought to have in one's head when having a photo taken.)

Take three. It was every bit as bad as the first.  By this time the photographer clearly had me down as a woman in denial. He gave me his ‘It’s the best of three look”. It didn’t matter, I felt I couldn’t degrade myself any further by asking him to take it a fourth time. “OK. I guess that will have to do” I sighed, selecting the third 'grimacing at the memory' shot.

£8.99 to feel rock bottom about yourself.  Not money well spent.

I banished the photos to the bottom of my handbag and feeling morose, treated myself to a coffee in a nearby coffee shop. Digging my current passport out, I mentally compared the then and now. It was impossible to deny that time, and two small children who are early risers, have taken their toll.  I shall admit here, in my secret space, that my vanity was such, I was not prepared to give up yet.  I marched my way to the post office. The rarely used booth languishing at the back of the store, it's grey privacy curtain hanging limp and lifeless.  £5. A bargain. Surely I would feel better after this. 


I attempted numerous shots until even the robot inside the booth got annoyed with me. Goodness knows what the other customers queueing with parcels thought.  Finally came the dictat; ‘You have one chance left’. Clearly the selfie obsessed precedent of taking a million shots until you get it right hasn’t reached the guys who make these machines.  The result was laughable. If the Snappy Snaps shot had looked bad before, it looked a million times better now.

I’ve never considered myself particularly vain but I am finding the first signs of ageing more difficult to deal with than I anticipated.  I don’t want crepe papery skin or fine lines, I was more than happy with plump, elastic skin.  I don’t want grey hair, or to worry about it thinning, or to have spend time every few weeks getting my roots touched up.  I don’t want  to feel that I can’t leave the house unless I’ve pasted Touche Eclat over the blue veins under my eyes each day, to make myself look less like a vampire. I don’t like the fact my knees ache when I wake up in the morning.  I wish I could stay up past midnight and not feel dreadful the next day if I do.  But the looming spectre of my 40th birthday brings the inevitable truth of all these things to the fore. Happy soul that I  usually am, sometimes in alone time, these things bother me. The passport photo experience, like a cruel jack in the box, jumping out at me, exacerbating my fears when I least want or expect it.

Later that day I found myself in Urban Outfitters - a shop that I never go in, that I suspect has a demographic target of twenty something. Oh, the irony. On the ground floor, I found myself standing in front of a trendy black and white photo booth.  Taped to it’s side, a collage of snaps of young, naturally collagen rich, folk in mad poses, hash tagged underneath. This is how the youth of today use photo booths.  I stood staring at them for a while, reflecting on the joys of being youthful and the fact that clearly, smiling in a photo booth makes for a far better end result.

A hunky young shop assistant was randomly displaying nail varnish in a life size greenhouse nearby. He approached, probably wondering if I’d wandered into the store by mistake. 

“Can I help you find anything?” 

Myself. I wanted to wail. 

‘Browsing’ is such a useful word to be able to mutter. I felt thankful he’d smiled so nicely at someone clearly so old and out of place as me.  Then I left. 

Later I gave myself a good talking to. Forced myself to overcome my  feelings of defeatedness.  Decided on a new project; feeling good about myself.  

I’m sticking with the Snappy Snaps passport photo. And I’m working on the acceptance.  

I might not be able to turn back the clock but I can still curate an interesting and visually pleasing self to look at and feel good about.  I've set myself a challenge. It's time for a style overhaul. 

Am I alone in feeling like this?  Is there a period of transition which then results in acceptance?  How do you feel about the ageing process?