When I first started blogging twenty years ago, I wrote about going to Walgreen’s for a passport photo. That post said:
I went to my local Walgreen’s yesterday to obtain the two photos required by our government to have one’s passport renewed. Sure enough, in the photo department a woman waited with a Polaroid camera and a pull-down screen that provided the obligatory white backdrop. She propped me up in front of the screen, made furrows in her forehead, and said, “Don’t smile.”
I obliged, although I wondered why smiling, or lack thereof, was part of the process. It wasn’t necessary to ask aloud, since the woman’s explanation was forthcoming. “We’ve received new government guidelines,” she said. “Applicants are not to smile since it changes their appearances.”
Her sincerity could not be doubted, but her answer made me wonder where this idea originated. I also wondered how much money the government spent sending the guidelines to every Walgreen’s as well as to every other place that offers passport photos.
I can see a variety of consequences to the “No Smiling” order. Airport security personnel will add another item to their burgeoning checklist. Anyone who currently possesses a passport with a smiling photo will be asked to replicate the smile before hearing an official say, “Yes, it’s you. Go on through.”
Then when American tourists are asked to show their passports in other countries, we’ll all appear as a somber bunch. This might be interpreted as proof that we don’t like living in our country. We’ll all look older too, since smiles tend to de-age the face and our photos will be smile-less.
I wonder if those who issue drivers’ licenses will follow suit.
Today I returned to Walgreen’s for an updated passport photo. This time, a young man the size of Hulk Hogan had the Polaroid and the pull-down screen. But I beat him to the punchline about not smiling.
“Yes,” he said, “It’s still in effect. Please look straight at me.”
A few minutes later the updated, non-smiling, two-inch square, 2024 version of my passport photo was in my hand. It cost almost twice as much as it did in 2004. Come to think of it, that’s not the only change. There’s been continuous war, mass shootings, global catastrophes, social media explosions, and political chicanery.
Perhaps those government officials who issued the No Smiling Edict twenty years ago were clairvoyant, because there isn’t a lot to smile about these days.