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February 25, 2016 /

Why, yes, I do look like an aged zombie

When my husband and I recently traveled to Mexico, our passports were six months away from expiring. We were a little nervous because we had read that some countries require passports to have more than six months left before their expiration date, but we didn’t have enough time to renew. Fortunately, we passed through the border check with no issues at all.

Almost as soon as we returned from our trip, we began the process of renewing our passports. We hope to travel outside the country later this year so we wanted to ensure adequate turnaround time without having to pay the $60 expedited service fee.

Our first order of business was to have updated photos taken.

The hair! The make-up! The lips that say, "damn, I look good."

The hair! The make-up! The lips that say, “damn, I look good.”

You probably have seen – or at least have heard about – Prince’s new passport photo. He was so proud of it, he tweeted it out to his followers. And, it truly is a thing of beauty:

Since Prince’s private make-up artist and photographer were busy, my husband and I decided to get our photos taken at Costco. This would be the same Costco that manages to make me look like a shrunken pinhead each time they take my photo for my membership card. For some reason, we thought this was a good idea.

My prior passport photo was taken just after I turned fifty. It wasn’t great, but I was happy that my Farrah Fawcett winged bangs on my 1970s-era passport were a thing of the past. Fifty-year-old-me had a bit of a deer-in-the-headlights look, but it wasn’t too bad.

To be fair, the young man who took my photo this time did his best. He offered to take it again but I was pretty sure it wasn’t his skill as a photographer that was the problem. It was me. I was in a hurry that morning and didn’t take the time to fix my hair or put on makeup. I was in full retirement mode and didn’t think that it was important. I hadn’t considered that I will have this photo in my passport for the next ten years (at which time, I’ll be 70 years old and, I promise you, no better looking than I am now).

A close approximation of my actual photo, which, I assure you, won’t be tweeted to my followers

A close approximation of my actual photo, which, I assure you, won’t be tweeted to my followers

It wasn’t until after we mailed off our photos and passport renewal paperwork that I truly grasped the gravity of my mistake. I realized that I was going to cringe every time I had to present my passport to tour operators, border agents, and hotel clerks. What if it is so awful they don’t believe it is truly me? Even worse, what does it mean if they think it looks exactly like me?

Doing some online research after the fact, I found this 2014 Vogue Magazine article that provides five helpful tips for preparing for a passport photo shoot. Even though the tips are geared towards women, men also might find it helpful and even consider borrowing – and discreetly applying – a little makeup too (after all, Prince did it, why can’t you).

It’s too late for me, but there may be hope for you if your passport needs updating soon. Why look like a zombie when you could look like royalty?



Leave a Comment
  1. Polly Huffman / Feb 25 2016 3:20 pm

    My passport expired years ago and even though I know I need to renew it, I haven’t.
    The picture on my old passport is hideous and I was only in my early 40’s!
    I’ll be reading the article you suggested and maybe I’ll look ok if I ever manage to renew. I don’t think I could possibly look worse.

    • / Feb 25 2016 3:28 pm

      Just when you think you couldn’t possible look worse, a Costco photographer will prove you wrong! I think you should always have a current passport… you never know when you might need it.

  2. Anabel Marsh / Feb 25 2016 3:23 pm

    Mine is awful too! You’re not allowed to smile or wear your glasses so I’m squinting away. Then the way they scan it seems to take all the colour out so I look deathly pale too. Attractive.

  3. Shelley / Feb 25 2016 4:02 pm

    Oh sure. NOW you send the glamour tips, right after I renewed. I wa cautioned NOT to smile. One must have a “neutral” facial expression.

    My old passport photo was particularly hideous. More than once, someone would look At the photo, look at me, then look back at the photo and again at me, then shake head in bewilderment. I don’t know whether it is better or worse that the in person version is superior to the passport photo?
    Given that my daily routine will NEVER include any of those glamour tips, it is probably a good thing that my latest passport photo sets a VERY low bar.

    • / Feb 25 2016 5:21 pm

      I would be thrilled if whoever is looking at my passport doesn’t believe it’s really me. Maybe it is better that I didn’t wear makeup; if I had and I still looked like the walking dead, I would have been very sad.

  4. patwdoyle11 / Feb 25 2016 4:49 pm

    I too just renewed my passport. I’ve always gotten the double look, even when I was in my younger years. I think it’s the hair. I’ve always tried to have it look “nice” for the photo… and then you get off the plane with a frizz-city pulled-back mess. Even my current one, I did do the hair. Not the makeup that this article talks about. I wouldn’t know how to do any of that. Concealer? Apricot blush? Huh?

    • / Feb 25 2016 5:24 pm

      You are right, most people look pretty bad after getting off a plane… maybe the sans-makeup look is the way to go. The best concealer I could have used would have been a paper bag.

  5. laura bruno lilly / Feb 25 2016 4:51 pm

    Oh what a hoot! Thanks for the chuckles.

  6. Encore Voyage / Feb 25 2016 6:22 pm

    God that made me laugh! Shelly has it right! My previous passport had a fairly cute smile and at least happy, sparkling eyes. When we had this one taken, the lady kept retaking the photo because my “eyes looked too happy – they crinkle up at the edges.” That isn’t “crinkling, those are just good old fashioned wrinkles! I had to have an absolutely neutral face, apparently for new facial recognition software. It wasn’t until just now that I considered the “zombie” factor – now it will forever be my zombie picture! Thanks for that

    • / Feb 27 2016 1:05 pm

      I don’t understand why they don’t let you smile a little bit. Some people have a fine neutral expression, some have RBF (resting bitch face), I apparently have RZF (resting zombie face).

  7. Colleen Pizarev / Feb 25 2016 6:44 pm

    Having a passport picture that is a closer approximation to what you will look like when you get off the plane will serve you well. That way you won’t get the “Is this REALLY you?” Stares and chuckles when you finally get to the counter after a 4 hour delay, a 15 hour flight, and two hours in the customs line. Or maybe you look better after a long trip than I ever did. Great post – I enjoyed the chuckle.

    • / Feb 27 2016 1:08 pm

      I think you are probably right… except I’m still not thrilled that I was able to acquire the “4 hour delay, a 15 hour flight, and two hours in the customs line” look just by not taking a little bit more time to get ready that morning.

  8. Keith / Feb 26 2016 5:36 am

    Of course, my passport picture beats the stew out of my driver’s license one. The nice thing about passports is they last a long time, so I have more hair and it is darker. The Prince one reminds me of that Zoolander car commercial where Ben Stiller poses for the traffic light camera.

    • / Feb 27 2016 1:11 pm

      I’m ok with my driver’s license photo… at least they let me smile. I keep getting extensions on my license so I think that photo is pretty old (or, would that be young?) too.

  9. dconnollyislandgmailcom / Feb 26 2016 5:56 am

    My youngest son said that I looked like a bag lady in my last passport photo. I thought that that was particularly unkind…to bag ladies everywhere! I will definitely keep the vogue tips in mind for my next passport photo.

    • / Feb 27 2016 1:15 pm

      I hope you have better luck with your passport renewal than I did. The bag lady look is a step above zombie but probably not what you were going for either.

  10. Kate Crimmins / Feb 26 2016 8:28 am

    Just this week I shredded my two old ones. Both were under 40 pictures. One had a Beatles-era hair do and on the other I wore a turtleneck (I don’t do turtlenecks anymore). I have to check my current passport. I got the picture taken at AAA. We are members at BJ’s (similar to Costco). There is no way I want them taking my picture for anything. My membership card makes me look like an old homeless refuge from some foreign place. I think they use filters.

    • / Feb 27 2016 1:19 pm

      I think I saved a dollar by having the photo taken at Costco rather than AAA. My frugality outweighed my common sense. I bet you are right about the filters… maybe if I had a higher membership level, they would have used a better one.

  11. Carol Ferenc / Feb 26 2016 11:12 am

    Funny!! My passport photo is awful, as well as my driver’s license photo. I blame it on the harsh lighting. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

    • / Feb 27 2016 1:21 pm

      I’d stick to that story too! My driver’s license isn’t quite as bad, but I remember asking the poor woman at the DMV to keep taking it over until I liked it. It was my birthday so she did. 🙂

      • Carol Ferenc / Feb 28 2016 11:20 am

        Wow! I doubt they would be so accommodating to drivers around here.

  12. snakesinthegrass2014 / Feb 26 2016 5:08 pm

    Damn, Prince’s *does* look good. Sigh. He does have more to work with than moi. I have to have mine renewed because it’s at least three years expired, and I am not looking forward to the picture taking process. I had no idea you couldn’t smile, so there goes my Bill Gates mug shot imitation.

    • / Feb 27 2016 1:24 pm

      I don’t agree that he has more to work with, but he certainly has more people working on him. Make sure you get lots of sleep and maybe a little sun before you have your photo taken. Also, ask Gorgeous if you can borrow her eyebrow pencil and blush. 🙂

  13. Terri Webster Schrandt / Feb 26 2016 8:31 pm

    Hahahaha! Sorry this is so laugh out loud funny. It must be the above lighting casting the horrid shadows on our midlife faces!

    • / Feb 27 2016 1:30 pm

      The lighting was horrible! I’m sure you can picture the high-bay CFL lighting at Costco. Combined that with a stark white screen background, a cheap digital camera, and an untrained photographer. I wonder if any makeup could have helped produce a better image.

  14. betsysbeat / Feb 26 2016 10:13 pm

    Haha! So funny. I had the opposite experience last time I got my passport photo. Without thinking about it, I scheduled it for a time that turned out to be immediately after I got my hair cut and colored, and I happened to wear make-up. The result is a passport photo that looks better than the real me! I’m so happy to carry that thing around – I think I’ll try the same thing next time.

    • / Feb 27 2016 1:34 pm

      I think you and Prince might be the only ones truly happy with their passport photo. Where did you have it taken? If you say “Costco”, my whole excuse of it being mainly their fault gets blown out of the water… so don’t.

      • betsysbeat / Feb 27 2016 1:41 pm

        I got it taken at the local Post a Office (before they discontinued that service). Prince and I are close in age, too 😉

  15. joannesisco / Feb 27 2016 6:48 am

    I have gone through multiple variations of hair – styles and colours – over the years. More than a few times I’ve had a border agent do a double-take on my photo vs me.

    … at least I’m hoping it’s the hair that’s causing the 2nd glance and not the sad and tired face 😉

    • / Feb 27 2016 1:40 pm

      Hair styles and color can make a big difference. My husband, in his last passport photo, had a mustache. It has caused a few double takes since he shaved it off several years ago.

  16. Beth / Feb 27 2016 3:26 pm

    Regardless of the photo, my husband says you should always keep a current passport, a clean pair of underwear, and some cash in your bedside table, just in case…!

  17. rporter610 / Feb 28 2016 1:15 pm

    Great story! I know what you mean by “cringing” every time you see your unlovely photo. My drivers license photo and work ID photo were non-favorites of mine for years. My passport photo – not so bad, but still not something I’m proud of.

    • / Feb 29 2016 4:25 pm

      I guess I’ll be cringing for the next ten years. But, the good news is that it will mean that I am also traveling!

  18. lisadorenfest / Feb 29 2016 4:19 pm

    That made me roar Janis. I feel your pain.

    • / Feb 29 2016 4:29 pm

      When you sail from country to country how do you officially “enter”? I was thinking that you’d just dock then walk ashore… but it’s probably more complicated than that.

      • lisadorenfest / Feb 29 2016 4:58 pm

        There is this great site called “Noonsite” that is a wonderful starting place for requirements to enter each country. As for our most recent one (Australia) we had to send details of our arrival (ship and passengers) 96 hours in advance and when we arrived, we were boarded by immigration, customs, and biosecurity for clearance). It usually takes about a day but in some countries it can take 3+ and we can’t leave the boat until we’ve cleared in.

        • / Mar 2 2016 6:59 am

          Yikes! Three days… that must be frustrating when you just want to get off the boat and explore.

          • lisadorenfest / Mar 2 2016 2:41 pm

            Totally ‼️ although checking in to a new country can be interesting entertainment in itself

  19. Chris Hayes / Mar 1 2016 2:31 am

    I know how you feel. I renewed mine last year and have to live with it for another nine years.

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