Dear Virginia … No smiles for you

6 Feb

This past summer my purse got stolen, so I had to go to the DMV for a new license. I wasn’t stressed about the photo because I’d assumed they’d use the same one, which was—if I do say so myself—pretty good. I was tan, I’d just gotten my hair done and I did my makeup.

But, to my horror, they said I needed to retake the photo. I hadn’t washed my hair or put on makeup, but oh well. So I sit down and smile.

“Oh no, you can’t do that anymore,” the lady tells me.

“Do what?”


Say whhaaaaat?

As it turns out, since 2009 Virginia’s DMV has banned smiling in photos because one day in the future they plan on having facial recognition technology. Apparently smiling screws that up. To be clear, you are allowed to turn the corners of your mouth up, but under no circumstances can you show teeth.

So I get my license, and it looks like—I kid you not—a 1920s mug shot because, in addition to no smiling, it’s in black and white. Virginia is not the only state that has a smiling ban, but Maryland and DC allow smiles, which makes Virginia’s licenses look downright depressing in comparison.

A friend of mine was recently at the DMV when a new resident learned about the policy. He turned to her and said, “What kind of people don’t let you smile?” It is a rather dismal welcome to the state.

My boyfriend moved from Maryland to Virginia a year or so ago, and he thinks the Virginia DMV is fantastic in comparison. According to him, the lines aren’t as long and the staff is much friendlier. He thinks sacrificing a smile is more than worth it.

4 Responses to “Dear Virginia … No smiles for you”

  1. shiningeyes February 6, 2011 at 11:15 pm #

    Ah, that explains it. I was so upset when I got my VA license. My old FL license picture was one of the best photos ever of me…it’s painful to compare my colorful smiling FL license to the frowning mugshot of my VA license. Ah well.

  2. Kat February 7, 2011 at 8:13 am #

    I’ve lived in DC and Maryland most of my life, and I’ve had to go to the MVA (as we call it here) many times… I’ve never had a truly bad experience with lines or anything, but I think that’s just luck. The other day when I renewed my own license, I was there 8 minutes, total.

    Not being able to smile in your picture is pretty lame, though…but I guess that makes sense. When you’re getting pulled over or what have, you’re probably not going to be smiling, or looking pretty.

  3. Foggy Dew February 7, 2011 at 4:05 pm #

    I was more annoyed when I got my license and was told I needed to prove I was an American citizen. And no, my previous license and a federal ID that required an FBI background check, were not sufficient proof I was indeed an American. All of this was explained to my by someone who could barely speak english. I’m with you on hating the VA DMV. Thankfully you can now renew your license for eight years. By mail.

  4. Michele September 16, 2013 at 4:58 pm #

    I was shocked when i couldn’t smile in my picture, i did my hair hoping it would come out fairly decent. The lady then says ‘oh no, you can’t show ant teeth.’ I couldn’t believe it! I wore braces for 3 years so proudly I was gonna show off my pearly whites. She said you can smile with your lips closed, I said NO thankyou, just take the picture! So I am sure it looks like a mug shot, they have to mail it to you. What is this world coming to?!?!?!

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