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Resting Bitch Face


“Smile! Hey girl, let me see that smile. Why don’t you smile? What’s wrong? Smile! Smile! Smile! Smile! SMILE!!!”

Shut up! Stop it. Nothing’s wrong. Seriously, I’m fine! I’m happy!

Do I have to walk around wearing a big insincere grin to avoid random strangers ORDERING me to change my facial expression? I mean, for real, walking down the street, people I’ve never seen before think it’s perfectly okay to actually demand that I smile for them like a trained monkey. I mean I’m a grown woman, forty, ahem -ish years old, for chrissakes!

It’s plagued me all my life. When I was very young, adults would come up to me constantly and say, “Smile little girl!” I would always say “I AM smiling!” I was genuinely surprised that they couldn’t see it.  Perhaps I’m cursed with a naturally frowning look on my face, aka “resting bitch face,” maybe my mouth turns down in its neutral state. Whatever the explanation, I CAN”T HELP IT! I’m a pretty happy and relaxed person. It’s not my fault my face doesn’t convey that without making a big phony effort.

Oh, and try working in the service industry without that natural easy smile. Torture. For over ten years I dealt with it. The more the drunken bar customers demanded a smile without giving me a good reason for it, the more I wanted to give them the iciest, piercing glare and stomp off. But, I either had to eat it and give a weak little smirk, or try the childhood retort, “I AM smiling!” and make a hasty retreat. My bottom line was at stake.  I may have been the most efficient, quickest, most needs anticipating, knowledgeable server in the business, but had to work harder for my tips than the ditzy, forgetful, lazy, and dishonest SMILERS who bumbled their way through their shifts.

I realize most of the men who’ve ordered me to smile over the years were making a lame and annoying attempt at flirting. They just weren’t clever enough to elicit real laughter or smiles with their witty conversation, so they’d try taking a shortcut. And if I didn’t immediately deliver, I was the bitch. It was like a passive aggressive dare. Prove you’re a sweet girl by playing along with my sad and pathetic attempt to break the ice. Don’t play along and it’s your fault.

Am I being whiny? Maybe a little. It’s ok. Life really is good. But -

What I want to know, is do men have the same expectation of perpetual cheeriness women do? Do people routinely walk up to a man with a serious expression on his face and give an abrupt and forceful order to smile!?  Or do women, having a tradition of being the one who must please, be pleasant, cheerful, upbeat...HAPPY all the time, carry the burden and suffer that annoyance alone? While it seems insulting for a store customer to demand mirth from the male clerk behind the counter, they think they’re being charming by doing the same thing to a female. And can you imagine a businessman coming home on the subway at night being asked to see his pretty smile from across the C Train? Not bloody likely.

I admit I am a little jealous of all those smiley, transparently cheerful people out there. Those people with an easy laugh right there just below the surface ready to bubble out, making everyone in the room feel instantly at ease and wanting to know them. You know, those Kelly Ripa types. Making us reserved, laughter coming out like, “Hmm, that’s funny” types; smiles coming out like bemused smirks types look like bitter party poopers. Damn you for your unfair advantage you easy smilers!Your likeability, your memorable-ness, your acing job interviews for which you’re way underqualified, your being asked out in the elevator by the cute guy who works on the 15th floor! 

You know, half of my best friends thought I hated them when we first met.  I scared them. “So serious,” they thought. But when they realized I truly was smiling on the inside, whether or not the outside betrayed it, they didn’t notice the absence of smiles. They knew a fun and caring friend. The ones closest to me can read my face. And that’s pretty cool. And they would NEVER command me to “smile!” And I know that by my age, without the help of psychotropic drugs, the unnaturally serious expression I carry around isn’t going anywhere soon, I’m okay with it.

So, if you ask, “How you doin’?” the answer is usually going to be, “I’m doing pretty damn great.” Can’t you tell?

by Stephanie Bok