Unpopular Opinion: I Don’t Hate It When Men Tell Me To Smile

May 17, 2016

I don’t believe in resting bitch face.

I was in highschool the first time a man told me to smile.

Really, he was just a boy, and he was playing Perchik to my Hodel in our school production of Fiddler on the Roof.

I spent hours doodling his name in my notebook, and my mood during rehearsal fluctuated according to whether or not he seemed to reciprocate my hopeless infatuation that day.

On the evening of our final dress rehearsal, he was flirting with a prop girl backstage while I tied my kerchief and apron on. As we waited in the wings for our cue, I couldn’t disguise the anguish on my face. Then he leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Let a smile be your umbrella.”

What the hell is that supposed to mean? I remember thinking as we made our entrance. I pasted a smile on my face for the audience, but my crush started to fade that night.

That was more than 20 years ago, long before women were writing think pieces defending their RBFs (resting bitch faces) and launching campaigns against being told to smile.

But it turns out my teenage Perchik was right — a smile really can be your umbrella. Studies show that flexing your facial muscles to smile actually fools your brain into feeling happy. Seems like a pretty good trick. So why did it make me so angry when he told me to smile? These days, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t bother me.

My resting face is pretty friendly.
Maybe it’s my midwestern upbringing, but I generally look pretty friendly when my face is at rest.

Maybe it’s my midwestern upbringing or my round-cheeked moon face, but I generally look pretty happy and friendly when my face is at rest, even when I’ve been forced into homelessness. I’m the kind of person who smiles at strangers on the street without being asked.

Also, I have a confession: I’ve never really believed in ‘resting bitch face’. When I look irritated or angry, I actually am in a bad mood. I have no poker face. When I’m upset, it’s obvious. Sometimes I don’t even know I’m in a funk until someone calls me out on it by telling me to smile.

I’m not defending street harassment. Street harassment is more than just annoying — it’s threatening. It’s a way for men to exert power over women. I don’t want to be catcalled or followed on the street. But I just can’t get worked up over being told to smile, even if it’s a guy saying “Hey baby, why don’t you smile?” and winking at me, I’ll smile, every time. It’s a reflex; I can’t help myself. And if I’m in a bad mood, smiling usually brings me out of it, no matter who I’m smiling at.

And now I’ll confess that my openness, my willingness to smile at strangers, has sometimes gotten me into trouble. If I had a resting bitch face, would it suggest a steely core that I just don’t possess? Would people be afraid to mess with me? Does my soft expression betray a weak nature? Does it invite people to take advantage of me?

Honestly, I don’t care. I don’t want to walk around looking bitchy. It’s not how I want to live. I try to cultivate a temperament that’s somewhere between Pollyanna and Buddy the Elf: smiling really is my favorite. So if you see me scowling, go ahead and tell me to smile. I promise not to get mad.

Comment: Does it make you angry when men tell you to smile?


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