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The Passport Office Conspiracy Theory

Mug shot of Manuel Noriega.

The average woman's passport photo

I have a theory about a conspiracy, a conspiracy theory, if you will. I believe it runs so deep that I may well go missing after this is published and you will only ever hear of me again in the National Enquirer, hidden below the article about Justin Bieber having a two headed baby with an alien. I think it’s worth the risk in order to expose this ongoing travesty against society. Just remember me fondly.

 My conspiracy theory (deep breath): The Passport Office is a government-run organisation of sadists, hell bent on giving you severely traumatic psychological insecurities regarding your physical appearance in order to suppress the masses. There, I’ve said it.

 I know you think I’m overreacting and am as barking as a pack of labradoodles chasing a paper boy, but trust me, that’s what they want you to believe. I shall regale you with the traumatic events of July this year to prove my point and you watch, others will find the strength to come forward too. (You are not alone out there, be brave).

 I had a very busy travel schedule this year which saw me travelling to far flung places at least once each month. This was a delightful way to fill my diary but it left me in the precarious position of possessing a soon-to-expire passport and no clear 6 week window in which to send off for a replacement. I had the trip of a life time planned (Las Vegas debauchery and California sunshine) and had been working very hard for months on getting my body somewhere near uber-LA-hot. I was not about to let semi-perky buttocks go to waste and so failure to get the necessary travel documents was not an option.

 The biological aging process dictated that a new photo would be required for my replacement passport as the powers that be (the sadists at The Passport Office) insist that they require one that actually bears a likeness to your real face and not that of a schoolgirl. The conspiracy begins. I was rather proud of my old passport photo, I didn’t look like a wonky potato, had escaped the vacant dead eyes of so many, I looked fresh faced and more importantly, according to general consensus, attractive. I was happy with this one and if you squinted, you could tell it was still me, sort of. Begrudgingly, I would have to have a replacement taken.

 I planned it all with the meticulous precision of a space shuttle launch. Nothing was left to chance; my hair was carefully groomed and styled, my make-up was applied with artistic flair and finesse only previously seen on the ceiling of some chapel in Rome. My t-shirt was crisp and spotless and I had the dewy radiance of one who has enjoyed a full 8 hours sleep every night for the past week. I had even selected a passport approved photo vendor who uses a handheld digital camera so you can assess your soon-to-be-indelible image, a reasonable 14 times or so, prior to committing it to ink. Short of hiring Mario Testino and the Vogue styling team, I was good to go. There was no way this could end badly. Or so I thought.

 The day of my Passport Office appointment came round just 2 knicker-wettingly short weeks prior to my flight taking off. I arrived at the ominous hive of evil Passport Office HQ bright and early, clutching my triple-triple checked, countersigned forms and satisfactorily smouldering miniature photos. I worked my way through airport style security, took my little numbered ticket from the receptionist and waited in the waiting room to be called forward. On hearing my number, I approached the soulless incubus posing as a civil servant and proudly handed him my perfect paperwork. He barely glanced at it and didn’t so much as throw a blink in my direction before casually raising his right hand and stamping “REJECTED” across the photograph with what I’m sure now was more than the merest hint of a smirk. What the…?! What could possibly be wrong with my picture? I’d followed all the rules – no hair in the way, no smiling, no halloween mask. I’d heard that Time Magazine and Marie Claire were in legal battles over who could use it on their front cover, it was so good, so something was most definitely up.

Allegedly there was a small amount of shadow in the background (so, that would be behind  me, not on me, right?) which meant this pen-pushing pet of Satan could take great pleasure declaring this photographic article verboten. I didn’t bother arguing although I did contemplate pulling out the ultimate girly negotiation tactic, crying, but thought better of it when I remembered that I was dealing with an emotionless ghoul and I would have been left with no passport and red puffy eyes which, quite frankly, is a waste of mascara.

The heartless beast behind the desk gave me the simple instruction that I merely had to provide another photo with no shadow and I would be granted my travel pass. This “simple” instruction actually translates thus:

  1. Leave The Passport Office (teeth gritted and wishing herpes upon all humanity under your breath)
  2. Find a cash machine
  3. Find a working cash machine
  4. Find a shop to buy something pointless in order to get some coin based change
  5. Return to The Passport Office
  6. Locate a photo booth in the foyer with maximum audience for your frustratingly humiliating experience
  7. Realise photo booth has been designed by people in league with the wretched beings who are behind the whole rejection-of-attractive photos conspiracy. Note – these photo booths take your picture and will then tell you if anything about it would result in it being rejected. They then allow you to take a further two digital shots before forcing you to choose one. Handy, right? Wrong. I used up all three of my lives and it still it insisted they were all duds. Lies, pure lies
  8. Select best of three atrocities. Hit print
  9. Hold back tears
  10. Rejoin the now considerably longer queue to get through the airport style security checks
  11. Take another number from reception
  12. Sit in the waiting room clutching number 953
  13. Hear tannoy calling number 677. Repeat step 9
  14. Begrudgingly present new photo to a different, yet equally soulless incubus who will continue having a conversation with her gargoyle-esque colleague the whole time you are stood in front of her
  15. Get new picture approved
  16. Leave passport office feeling like a cross between a kicked puppy and Quasimodo

You may be wondering why I was so reluctant to hand over the fruits of the demonic photo booth and why I left feeling like The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Well, bearing in mind it was early in the morning, I hadn’t spent a week getting 8 hours sleep, I was due a hair appointment, my make-up looked like it had been applied by a toddler on a fast moving vehicle (actually by me during a half blind early morning panic – on a fast moving vehicle) and I was more than mildly annoyed, you can imagine how my face might not have been at its most photogenic. The resulting images were reminiscent of Myra Hindley with a hangover, and I like to think, not really the best representation of my visage (funny how that got approved with no trouble, isn’t it?!). This is now “officially” what my face looks like.

It is my belief that the people of The Passport Office are there to destroy all hopes you may have of believing you look half decent. They are there to nip all facially based self confidence in its delicate bud and replace it with the inarguable, legally evidenced proof for all to see (and which you have to come face to face with, literally, every time you travel internationally or need to rent a car) that you are a hideous, glassy eyed, wonky potato headed freak, in order to keep you subdued and in your place.

You may think it’s far fetched, you may think it’s incredulous and that I’m talking a load of toot but answer me this – have you ever seen a beautiful passport picture and does the government get into power at each election? I rest my case.


About prettyfeetpoptoe

I live in London and have both my own legs so I am fortunate enough to get out and about on occasion. I form many views on the things that I see and do and love nothing better than a session of linguistic gymnastics in order to share these views.

57 responses »

  1. So true, on both my passport and driving license, I look like a lesbian serial killer. Something bit me on the face on the way to get my photo taken, and seeing as the Government insist that I can drive (unchecked) and untested again on a license valid until I’m 70, I shall be forever haunted by the ghost of gnat bites past. *Sigh*

    • “Something” bit you? Convenient, no? I propose that it wasn’t a gnat but a very small remote control blotch-making device, operated by a passport agent hiding on the grassy knoll.

  2. True! I’m lucky that I’m a guy and therefore couldn’t care less what I look like in photos. (I put raisins in my teeth for my high school grad photo, which impressed no one). I reckon your theory is true, and this is why there are such long lineups at the border crossing (I live 20 minutes from the States).

    That photo caption cracks me up.

  3. Whoa!! The same thing happened to me the last time I had to get my passport renewed . The photo place inside the embassy belonged to the creepy ,creepy lady and it kinda showed on my face when she took the photo :-/ …. which was my 1st cringe inducing photo id . The second one’s a story to be told around a campfire.

    • Well done for coming forward and sharing that harrowing story. It’s really not your face, it’s just what they want you to believe.

      Remember to check you’re not being bugged when you tell that tale round the camp fire or you too may go missing…

  4. The only more unforgiving Government agency I’ve come across is the tax office. Unless you have suffered a bereavement, they will impose a daily penalty for late filing, even charging you while you wait for an appeal that inevitably goes against you – all the more reason for you to file on time and for them to delay concluding appeals. Some may say this is fair. I would argue if only our politicians were just as accountable to us then fine, I’d support the regime. But they aren’t. And I won’t. Rant over.

    • Wow, it looks like I should have tagged this post under “political rage” instead of “humour”. Don’t let them hear you complain about taxation or you’ll find your passport photo myteriously loses hair and gains an extra chin.

      • Yeah, apologies for my rant being somewhat off-topic. I’m not feeling the love with Government agencies of late. As for more greys and flabbiness, I fear the passport picture re-edit may be more accurate than I would give it credit for! 🙂

  5. Great conspiracy theory. We have the same problem in Norway.

  6. I feel your pain! I am enduring a similar experience trying to renew my US visa – for which I have had to leave the US and so am now in Canada. The small town where I live has only one option for passport photos and is only open from 8am until 1pm. This meant a complete re-jig of my schedule and an early morning photo session. “Early morning” can only give one photo result – it is not pretty. I paid $45 for my kids (2 of) and I to get 2 photos each from a Post Office guy with a digital polaroid thing. We could have had a professional studio session for less!

    We spent an hour and a half queuing up outside the US consulate (in Vancouver – it’s cold) before being allowed through the door to an empty waiting room (with many seats for many people – what a tease!) where we sat for 5 minutes prior to a speedy visa process. You really have to want that visa!

    • That sounds barbaric! Well done for coming forward, everything you say just compounds my theory. They really are out to get us with their early morning photo ops.

  7. Now I’m waiting for the post when you are denied entry somewhere because you do not look like your passport photo. Oh, that’ll be a fun time!

  8. I hope you’ve gone into hiding because I’m certain you have exposed their evil plot. I envision you racing away on a motorbike of some sort while clutching your newly printed passport looking behind you at the frustrated goon who was supposed to silence you and remove this post from existence.

    But perhaps I have seen just one too many spy movies . . .

    • I’m replying to my comments from a secret underground bunker in a heavily wooded forest. I’ve had to join a resistance group of freedom fighters who have forsaken passports in favour of weekend breaks in Torquay.

      The motorbike ride would have been fun but we could only afford a skateboard.

  9. Great post. I wonder if this (fantastic) blogger is part of the conspiracy – hanging out near photo booths collecting the rejects and recycling them into a form of art?

  10. Um…..well, yeah….I actually like my passport photo. I just had it done this past April. It was the first step in my escape to England. I did my hair, clothes, makeup…..I wish I could look like this EVERYDAY! After all the paper work was in order and I had my birth certificate and SS# and my first born, I went to AAA and they took the picture. Then I went back to the post office and they documented everything, made me take an oath, and said my birth certificate would come back separately in 4 weeks. I was on pins and needles until that piece of documentation came back!
    My driver license photo isn’t bad either. But that’s where it ends. Normally, I hate having my picture taken because I just don’t photograph well!

  11. Oh, your story is the way our motor vehicle agencies work. “Incupus” is the perfect word for these employees! Don’t even try to crack a smile with them! They have little voodoo dolls under the counter of you! The numbers, the lines, the back and forth, “you forgot this” “you forgot that”,you need to have this notorized, all I can say is “BITE ME!”. I can’t stand those places!

    • They aren’t real humans. Behind their glass screens and high topped counters they don’t have normal human legs, they have serpent like tails and claws at the end of their lizardy legs. Fact.

  12. So brave to reveal the truth we all are afraid to speak. Thanks for the chuckles

    • It’s a huge burden to bear but it needed to be blown wide open. I shall be posting from my secret bunker for the next two weeks and then I shall have to undergo intense surgery to conceal my true identity.

      Trust no one.

  13. Diego Serrano

    I don’t know which was better.
    The content, or your ability to make us feel as though we bore witness to the event vis-a-vis your writing skills.
    Actually, it’s both.

    Honestly, I’m trying to feel your pain, but it’s difficult for a straight male whose only idea of styling is to throw on a baseball cap, (sans showering) and head out to greet the world with a devil-may-care approach to his looks.
    One of the greatest virtues of being a man, I think.
    Well, other than peeing standing up. (and all over everything).

    Thanks for the smiles and please keep the posts coming!

  14. Rich Crete

    Perhaps this is part of an elaborate international security system. If someone presents a passport with a pleasant looking photo to a border agent, it is obviously a forgery. That person should be detained for questioning…and probably much worse.
    I’d detain ryoko if I was working a border crossing.

    • *gasp* The conspiracy goes further! You know too much.

      • Rich Crete

        Not to worry. This nom de blog is probably an alias. (The peace sign really throws ’em off) If we meet, just don’t make eye contact and you’ll be fine. Probably. OK, maybe. Definitely, maybe.

  15. In my first passport photo, I looked vaguely worried, and was, because I was in high school and had – wait for it – forgotten to wear a bra that day. (Don’t ask, I have no idea. I mean, wtf, me?) The second was far better. Naturally, that one got lost. My present, just-established ticket to global transport makes me look like the pale ghost of a fugitive from justice. A psycho fugitive from justice. It’s in the eyes. I was just trying not to blink, but alas… So, point is, I think you’re right. There’s a worldwide effort to make all those fortunate to travel look like they belong at Gitmo for something nonspecific. I hope you never have to show that thing to anyone. Pretty girls don’t belong in international prisons.

    • The decent one got “lost”, you say? I smell a government agent sized rat.

      Your ghost reference rings all too true. One of the words I use to describe the look on my face in mine is ‘haunted’.

  16. PLEASE can we see both the products of this exercise? Great post – very funny. I presume you live in the UK. Was it the Croydon passport office in South London? It all sounds soooo Croydon.

    • You ask too many questions. Who sent you?!

      There is absolutely no way I’m sharing the result of my demonic photo booth encounter. It’s safely locked away in a vault somewhere along with my pride and my birth certificate, but if you want to see the next best thing, look up a young Sharon Stone for the “good” picture and then compare it with Myra Hindley’s mug shot for the final article.

  17. I’m about to renew my passport. You’ve made me wonder if it’s worth bothering to look even remotely decent for the picture. Probably not…

  18. I have potentially come across the first and only conspiracy theory I actually believe in…

  19. Here in the States, the same fiends work for the drivers’ licensing bureau, but here they operate the cameras as well and there are NO do overs. The last time I had my license renewed, a miracle occurred. My picture was lovely. I was beautiful with hair that looked like I had just walked out of the salon, perfect make-up, eyes open wide and a pleasant look rather than the usual look of agony. I danced away from their office with my temporary, paper, black-and-white license to await the postal delivery of my five year license in full color.

    Less than a week later, I received not my shiny new license, but a letter stating that they had somehow “lost” the new picture and I would have to return to have the picture retaken. The new picture . . . hair straight from a wind tunnel, one eye half closed and lips twisted in such a way as to be positively inhuman, but the coup de grace . . . the appearance of a double chin that I most definitely DO NOT possess.

    I believe this supports your theory. How, in this day and age of computerization, can an official picture be lost? I say it is the work of evil demons hell bent on assuring no one will ever look even vaguely attractive on any official document. I’m with you sister. Know that at least one person will be making inquiries should you mysteriously vanish.

    • Your story is 100% proof that this theory is not a product of my Cabernet induced paranoia. Thank you for sharing and being brave enough to risk suffering the same fate that may befall me when I come out of hiding.

      Don’t let them use my passport photo on the ‘missing’ posters.

  20. Awesome post. 🙂

    I know how you feel. By the time I get to have my photo taken, I’m so filled with homicidal rage that I look like a cross between Herman Munster and an agitated badger.

    These photos don’t do me any favors when I have to present them to authority figures. I always seem to get extra scrutiny. 😦

    • I love the thought of a cross between Herman Munster and an agitated badger – a fantastic analogy for the best a passport photo booth can bring out in you.

      Also possibly the one cross-breed pet guaranteed to keep burglars away.

  21. Missy Amber

    I’m avoiding getting my photo drivers license renewed – I like my 21 year old face smiling back at me, dammit.
    I had my official pic taken as a school governor to go in the school lobby. It was taken by the team who take all the kids photos. And oh, dear god. Double chin, buck teeth, and a freaking smile caused by them asking me to image getting paid to do my job. They then had the cheek to send me a complimentary 8 x 10 glossy copy in a little cardboard frame. It shall be displayed at the bottom of a bonfire shortly.

    My other half currently looks like he’s on a sex offenders register on his work pass. Though this is a step up from his last one, where the security guard just shoved a camera into his face, which caused a weird wide angle effect that made him look like Tom after he’s been hit by a frying pan.

    • I think the people who take school photos also take the ones at the passport office. Well, if MY school photo is anything to go by, that is. I saw it recently and almost vomited into my merlot.

      That 8×10 in a little frame isn’t a complimentary gift, it’s a thinly veiled threat.

  22. I’m guest commenting on my mother’s blog. My name is Naomi. I agree with your theory completely. It is a rare occasion where i get a photo taken at school that looks good. I still have to get a new passport. I’m not looking forward to it seeing as how the last time i got my photo taken for it I had a rather large grin on my face because i was woken up early and very tired. bright side? i was 8…. i think.
    So my plan? get up 2 hours earlier than we leave to get all pretty and simple but still look like me 🙂 hopefully the agents of disaster won’t get to me 🙂

    • It’s too late, they will already be on to you and will have laid obstacles and booby traps all along your path to a normal looking picture. Seriously, you think you’re getting a full night’s sleep beforehand? They own a pack of randy demonic cats that they release outside houses at 03:00am to ensure maximum eye bags. Fact.

  23. And this is me replying. This picture you see here was taken by the same daughter that was guest commenting just previously. It was the first Christmas that my hair was (successfully) blond. I had gotten dressed and then curled it. I said “Hurry up and take some pictures before the curl falls out (my hair is naturally Straight, straight). She was in fifth grade when she took this photo. I was so happy at the way it turned out. She’s my photographer from now on. I don’t normally look like that when someone takes my picture. Sadly, if I want to travel somewhere outside of the country, I will need a new picture. It probably won’t look this good (big sigh), but then again, it will probably look a little more like what I normally look like, though I hope it doesn’t mimic my last drivers’ license photo, or even my current passport photo, where I look suspiciously like a crack addict (well, maybe there’s no way to resemble that now, as I have gained about 30 lbs since then). I shudder to think what new indignities will be visited on my photo presence.

    I just wanted to say, Thanks for the ROFLMAO! writing that you do, although in this case it was helped even more by the witty repartee with all your commenters. My husband heard me laughing all the way upstairs and came down to see what the matter was. I was laughing so hard that I was crying, and my nose was running. I handed the computer off to my daughter to read the contents to him while I went to blow my nose. He went in the kitchen to find something to eat,while Naomi read teh post and comments to him.

    Needless to say, you are a hit with all of us.

    • Are you sure there wasn’t a sly photographer hiding behind the curtains while you were all snotty and tear streaked? I’m not trying to alarm you but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you find that as your new passport picture. *shudder*

      Thanks so much for stopping by and for your very kind words. I’m glad to have entertained the family as a whole – Now I feel like the human version of Scrabble!

  24. Oh, Dear, I cannot stop howling with laughter! This is so funny and sad as I have just gone through the exactly same experience in London.
    The only step you forgot to write about, after spending money on your upteenth packet of tissues or minties in order to get the right change in coins, is when the photo booth rejects your otherwise perfectly acceptable coins. Then, you try to feed it in ten times in a row, praying inside for it to please accept it this time, only for it to be spat out viciously again and again (I bet someone is filming this process on the hidden camera somewhere and dying of laughter). After all this humiliation, you come home and ask your husband, boyfriend, parrot (delete as appropriate) whether he thinks that you look awful in the photo, but you make sure you ask him with the tone of voice that leaves the poor creature in no doubt that there is one, and only one, correct answer only. Ah, the fun of applying for a passport, thank God it only happens once in a decade…

    • I don’t think I could ever ask someone what they thought of my passport photo. In fact, I don’t think I can bring myself to look at it, not after all the therapy I’ve gone through since this happened.

      You clearly need to go into hiding now though, as your evidence is truly damning against the government and their evil conspiracy.


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