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You Might Think I’m Prettier When I Smile, Which Is Why You’ll Get an Eyeful of Bitchface

May 20, 2013

I wonder if there’s something in Southern California’s water that makes people go all airy-fairy-woo-woo, as my 20-some-year area resident godmother would say. Yeah, sure, Denver and especially neighboring Boulder have a fair share of people who consider themselves spiritual but not religious, who put more stock in tarot card readings and psychic influences and positive thinking and Mother Nature’s inherent healing powers than I do in the certainty of the sun rising over the Eastern Plains in the morning, but the Good Vibrations seem exceptionally prevalent in California.

Even my godmother, coiner of the phrase “airy-fairy-woo-woo” and its subtle snark, seems to be more of a follower of that which cannot be objectively measured than I would have thought, given her close relationship to my mother the die-hard anti-theist. My godmother’s gone so far as to drive from Carlsbad to LA to see the Dalai Lama, a journey which, having recently made it myself, made me understand why one would require some belief in the power of human kindness and Something Greater in order not to shrivel up into a ball of hopeless despair at the end of it.

And thanks to what I can only term the SoCal mindset, my godmother subscribes to and stocks her apartment with but two magazines: one extolling the virtues of mindfulness, the other Psychology Today. 

This is not to say that psychology nor, indeed, a greater sense of spiritual connectedness are not without their clear benefits. It’s just that I, personally, am skeptical about both. As far as I can tell, psychology is still such an open field with ideas that, however well-grounded, are still largely untestable, and I’m a big believer in documenting the scientific method before I declare my wholehearted support of any given hypothesis.

Still, I found myself in need of a distraction as I sprayed aloe over a stomach that a painting supply store would likely label Furiously Fuchsia, so I picked up the May issue of Psychology Today and began reading, with interest, an article postulating why fake-smiling for fake-seeming Facebook makes us all miserable. And I found myself nodding in agreement fiercely enough to put the aloe to one side. Sure, the article was light on links to peer-reviewed scientific sources, statistics, and scholarly references that we skeptics like to evaluate before taking any new piece of information for granted, but damned if I didn’t feel some weird sense of deeper connectedness to the points contained within that essay.

Not least of those points was this: “Dominance disdains a smile. Men with high levels of testosterone smile less than men with lower levels of the hormone, and they are judged to be less nice.” Again, the general fuzziness of correlation-vs.-causation in studies such as this make any conclusions drawn iffy at best, but those lines rang nauseatingly true for me. After all, as seems to come with the territory for a woman, I’ve been told that I would look prettier if I smiled more.

It’s never been quite clear to me why that admonition bothered me so much. Other women rankled enough to protest on the internet have articulated the excellent points that no one should be told how to feel or how they should feel or denied their ability to feel down and out. Hell, isn’t acknowledging that everything isn’t always sunshine and roses a good thing? Maybe I give my cynicism too much free rein, but I thought Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided contained a solid theory that the American belief that everything will turn out okay, HAS TO turn out okay, damn near drove us off the fiscal cliff.

So on that alone, tough shit to the random men I encounter if my neutral face is a reminder that everything in the world isn’t always soaring higher and higher. But the newly added thought that I might have been told to “turn that frown upside down!” or, more accurately, put some curve into the straight set of my lips because I’m not showing enough deference to the supposedly stronger sex…well, that thought is enough for me to tell the next guy who feels that his masculinity is being threatened where he can stuff it, since he’ll still have enough room even after he tucks his undersized manhood up there.

None of which lends itself particularly well to forging a deeper connection with my fellow man (or, possibly, woman) and embracing the great mysteries of the universe as one people. But those adherents of Chinese philosophies should recognize that there is a yin for every yang, a touch of gray for every silver lining. And should this disturb you for whatever reason, maybe you would benefit from doing some serious navel-gazing to find out why your deep well of inner peace is so churned by an unsmiling woman on your morning commute.

In the meantime, I’ll be busily practicing my bitchface while contemplating what’s in my own water supply. Since the answer is probably plutonium, that should make said facial expression much easier to master.


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  1. Interesting. I was just told to smile yesterday, in fact. :/

    • I have not had that happen to me recently, perhaps due to the fact that I’ve taken to riding the bus and light rail with a scowl firmly in place and my eyes drifting around with an implied challenge. Most of the men whose eyes I’ve met have quickly looked away, but we’ll see how long that holds.

  2. this can be so frustrating!! my neutral face is sort of bitchy and uninviting but i’m a cheery happy person. just can’t help my face! “cheer up, it can’t be that bad”…it isn’t!! i want to scream. “i’m fine!! just walk along!! no need for comments!!”

    • You should totally scream that, just to see how quickly they turn and run the other way. Maybe more frustration would get it to stop!

  3. it always feel condescending to me. it would never occur to me to walk around telling people what facial expression they should have, nor would I assume that adopting an expression that makes them look most attractive is their goal! Yes complete stranger men feel totally entitled to do so.

    • Exactly! I wonder how these same men would feel if I randomly and unprovokedly (it’s a word now!) approached them and said, “I’m having a bad day, so you need to wipe that stupid grin off your face.” What gives anybody the right to think they can control another person’s moods?

      • you just made me laugh out loud in my office. i’m going to do that some day. Pick a don draper looking guy and just ask him to stop smiling because it’s annoying me.

      • I will squeal with glee, especially if you include video footage!

  4. it’s a deal. 🙂

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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