March 15, 2009
Waiting 30 years to save face
By Teo Cheng Wee
It was with no small amount of glee that I grabbed my new identity card about two weeks ago.
Staring at the shiny pink card, I smiled goofily at my face smiling back at me.
I have never been so happy to see me.
Yes, I couldn't wait to get rid of my old IC. In fact, I've been waiting for more than 10 years to junk that thing, but only got the chance recently because it's a legal requirement to change it when you're 30.
For years, that card has done me wrong. It lied about me. It misrepresented Teo Cheng Wee.
I mean, I look nothing like the person in that IC.
In that picture, my head is humungous. I look like I have a receding hairline, although I must have made that card when I was around 18. (I have hair okay, look at that lovely picture above this article if you don't believe me.)
And my skin - I had this strange sick, pasty,look-what-just-crawled-out-from- the-morgue face.
If that was the photo in my passport, I'm sure I would've been kicked out of every country I tried to visit (except Romania, where I might've been able to enter as a very bloated Count Dracula).
So, thank goodness, that card is dead. May it rest in peace.
I still remember the day the picture was snapped - I took an instant photo because I didn't have a current picture.
I stepped into a booth, the flash went off in my face, I came out, went into the booth again because I blinked, pop, three, two, one, and the Horrible Photo was ready.
Nobody, by the way, misses an ugly photo.
I should know. I have lost count of the number of times people have spotted the photo on my driver's licence - another visual disaster - even if I only flicked my wallet open for a nanosecond, and insist on seeing it. (And laughing very loudly.)
It used to be the first card in my wallet. Now I keep it in my underwear.
That's the thing about passport-sized photos: Sometimes I wonder if they are meant to identify or humiliate you, because they are invariably ugly.
After all, when people take passport photos, the odds are seriously stacked against them.
Think about it: You probably took it in a rush (you don't care because it's just a stupid passport photo), maybe in between chores, maybe during your busy lunch hour, maybe after a bad day at work when your boss gave you hell.
Is it really possible to take a decent picture under those circumstances?
Compare that with the normal times when people take pictures.
At a party, with your cheeks reddened by alcohol and the dim lighting softening the flaws on your skin.
Or on holiday, with your sun-kissed skin looking radiant as you relax by the beach.
Plus there so many other things to distract you in normal photos. The clothes, the other people, the scenery.
In a passport photo, it is. Just. Your. Face. You better look like a young Sinead O'Connor if you want to pull this off.
I'm also one of those people who needs to smile naturally - maybe have someone snap a photo after showing me something funny.
That's because I find it hard to do the 'say cheeeeeese' kind of smile. If I'm forced to produce - then hold - a smile, it usually results in an awkward smirk-
grimace expression, as if someone told me a bad joke, stepped on my foot, then quickly clicked the shutter.
I might, on a very good day when the heavens are smiling on me, be able to take an okay photo. Unfortunately these days don't come very often.
Things have, thankfully, improved dramatically with digital photography.
With the old instant photo booth, I got one shot. Now I can give my mug a second chance. Or third. Hence my new, decent, non-Dracula photo in my latest IC.
After I stopped swooning at myself, I asked the customer service personnel: 'So when is the next time I need to change my IC?'
'That's it. This will be the one you're using for the rest of your life,' she replied.
Now I just need to find out when it's time to replace my driver's licence.