08/21/2012 03:53 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

'Mugshot Yourself's Fatal Flaw: Good Luck If You're Indian (PHOTOS)

When I was a kid I was never satisfied flipping through those racks of name key chains. Yes, they covered gender bases and cornered the Jamies and the Taylors, and definitely every Kathy in the world could find a piece of rubber cut and stamped to resemble the letters that defined her. But what about the Mallikas? There would never be a "Mallika" keychain, not anywhere in the U.S., at least.

But I had other problems to contend with, chiefly my huge red glasses, which for some reason bore the official NBA logo on their right side. A silhouetted man I hadn't noticed at the glasses store was eternally dribbling on my temple. My Texas junior high school wasn't the right place for such a renegade fashion choice, and the problem of the Mallika-and-other-foreign-name-shaped holes in the American tchotchke industry dropped low on my list of grievances.

Until yesterday, when I tried to "mugshot myself." If you're new to the game, a self can be mugshotted over at "Mugshot Yourself," a website with a dedicated photo generating tool. Created to promote the BBC America period crime show "Copper," by all accounts "Mugshot Yourself" is working. Everyone's mugshotting themselves, the same way everyone Celebrity Lookaliked themselves long ago on that genaeology website no one realized existed until it let us compare ourselves to famous people.

The big difference here -- the one that thwarted me, is that "Mugshot Yourself" draws from a historical bank. The user uploads a photo of him or herself, and a facial recognition API assesses details like the angle of your face, and the light in the room. The tool then merges the user's face with one from Mark Michaelson's massive Flickr collection of vintage American mugshots (full disclosure: I profiled Michaelson earlier this year, and he's fascinating). Voila! You're now a nineteenth century baddie version of yourself, sepia-toned, and wearing a cool old hat.


Unless of course you're a Mallika, in which case you turn into a nineteenth century baddie version of someone else. During the era "Mugshot Yourself" draws from, staring longingly at keychain stands in Texas would have been a pipe dream for any little Mallika, who surely would have lived in India. When I tried my hand at Mugshotting, I turned into a white woman with bangs. See above.

I felt pretty angsty about it. But then my blonde colleague Priscilla Frank gave the tool a spin. Despite the fact that she is obviously a woman, she was turned into a softly bearded man.


I felt less left out, more positive, more like part of the team/country. On further investigation, it became clear the tool matches randomly at first, and from there a user can choose any face in the database to merge with. I really had nothing to complain about -- this thing is pure. Here's me looking more like myself (and also like a young boy).


Thanks Indian-looking criminal of nineteenth century America! You made ME feel better!

Maybe the best upshot of the whole experiment is that it inspired me to Google search "Mallika keychain." I'm happy to report that even though I can't be mugshotted to perfection, I can buy a British-made keychain that clearly states "I <3 Mallika." Progress.