That moment where you see a really bad photo of yourself and think – oh my God do I really look that old/ugly/desiccated/ and the answer is a resounding, ego shattering ‘YES.’
My driving licence ran out and because I’m a foreigner – Irish actually – it means I can’t sort out a new licence online – I have to send off a filled in form plus photo. At first I thought I could just get one of those machine ID ones and duly nipped into the photo booth at Paddington.
Alas, I had to listen to barely audible instructions first about how to sit, not to smile, take off glasses, don’t wear a hat. I then took my specs off and pressed the button, looking up at a blur. ‘Are you satisfied’? came the voice. I couldn’t see a thing, so I pressed yes. Out came four identical photos of me looking droopy faced, and stupendously, shockingly (overwritingly) ugly. The bottom half of my face sagged! When did I develop Resting Granny Face? My hair was beige-ing! I thought of the dinner I’d had with the ex-head of BBC Comedy the previous week. She had finally stopped dyeing her very dark hair and had gone a very sexy grey but swishy silky grey in an elegant bob. Some women look great with silvery fox hair. My hair was no longer red or auburn but a nasty tobacco stained bleige. Ah nicotine memories.
Slowly I combed my hair, pulled on my hat, replaced my specs and put on some lipstick, thinking of Bad Photos Over the Years. I wondered if I might cry. My First Holy Communion photo where mum had made my dress, an A line number that revealed too much of my skinny legs, as I had a habit of shooting up overnight. Height wise as opposed to heroin. Although that particular photo was enough to turn anybody into an addict. If the pipe cleaner legs weren’t bad enough, the sunlight narrowed my eyes to slits. I resembled a lizard in a dress. My early attempts at a fringe which went all Dallas circa 1982 – fluffy wuffy, well it was 1982 but that fringe was terrible. A particularly bad passport photo which my ex pointed out made me look ‘like a member of the Baader Meinhoff’. And why did I always blink at the wrong moment so I resembled one of those dead relatives the Victorians would take pictures of? Not only dead but in an advanced state of rigor mortis. If only I knew the tricks of looking passably human in photographs. There’s something to be said for the Selfie Generation – they instinctively understand about turning up the chin, and having the light behind you.
Then I thought about what a ridiculous thing – to go see the First World War Graves and to ‘honour’ the dead by taking a selfie. Or to walk about with a selfie stick without even feeling stupid. As though if you haven’t taken a selfie in front of ‘it’ – then ‘it’ doesn’t exist.
I looked at the photo again. Still looked like shit. I began to laugh.
At lunch I was telling my friend the story and found myself snorting with laughter again. She looked at it and just said, ‘Your eyes are closed.’ The waitress came over with parmesan, and still coughing with laughter, I watched as my friend showed this photo to her. The waitress laughed too. ‘It’s not a good photo,’ she said kindly. ‘But you look so nice now.’
It reminded me that faces are lovely in mobility and laughter. Better keep my face moving then.