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Stop telling me to smile!

This is a topic that has been covered before…

More people than just me are talking about this, and indeed have been talking about this for a long time!

Despite that, however, the habit of telling people, ok mainly women, to smile persists.

So, I feel the need to say it again…

Stop telling me to smile!

If you are unsure why this is important, here is a (probably not that) brief rundown of why it is important.

Firstly…It is extremely annoying. You have no idea what I am feeling or not feeling and I am absolutely well within my rights to have an expression on my face that reflects how I am feeling. If I am happy I am likely to be smiling, and if not I have the absolute right to show that too.
I am quite an argumentative creature by nature and I generally resent being told what to do by all and sundry… so from that point of view it is likely to make me cross, and even less likely to smile!

But more importantly than that, it is a symptom of the societal conditioning that dictates that women have to be soft and pretty and approachable. We have to be friendly and accommodating at all times because this way we are not seen as a threat by men. We are not seen as a threat, and we are treated more like little girls than equals.

It has long been a women’s job to be the peacemaker, to be a friendly nurturing face at all times. It makes people comfortable to see women looking friendly and happy. It reinforces the idea that women are for decoration and soft nonthreatening pursuits.

It is a subconscious message that permeates its way through society in subtle yet stubborn ways.

Think about the following phrases:

“cheer up, it might never happen”
“smile”
“you’d be so much prettier if you smiled”
“Don’t forget to smile, it makes you look more approachable”
“Maybe smile once in a while”
“you look so cold and unapproachable, smile”

Have you heard these things said to or about men, and if you are a man, how many of these things have been said to you?

I have no actual statistics to back me up, I am just going on anecdotal evidence and experience. I am frequently told I have a scary face when I am not smiling. I apparently look angry when I am focused, or concentrating or generally just not making an effort to be all smiley and suchlike. Honestly, this is not my angry face…If you have ever seen my angry face you would know it!

Look, here I am smiling, and not smiling and pulling a face… I am pretty sure I don’t look angry in any of them though. I wonder how many people would say I did if they were asked. I would have put up an angry face for comparison, but the only angry face I had today was at work and I decided that stopping in the middle of a conversation with a project manager to take a photo would probably be frowned upon and I can’t replicate it.

Anyway, I digress, back to allegedly angry looking neutral faces…

This is a phenomenon that is so common for women that it has, over the years developed a name of its own.

You know it has, you know what resting bitch face means. You have heard it, you have probably used it. I know I have, although I am going to stop.

Think about this though,

How many times have you heard it used to describe a man?

There isn’t even a male equivalent phrase.

Ok, there is, but I had to google to find it out, and no one actually knows it. Googling brought up a couple of options “resting asshole face” and “resting dick face” I guess the difference is all about which way you are facing.

Anyway, my point is, there is no common male equivalent because the whole concept is rooted in sexism.

Resting bitch face is not really a thing. The world has just become so accustomed to women smiling that it is now expected and sometimes believed that this is their natural and constant state of being.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with smiling, if smiling is what you want to do.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with smiling when introduced to people, or when giving presentations, or in meetings or anywhere to be honest, just as long as it reflects you and your personality and feelings.

The problem arises when smiling is expected, and when people (often but not exclusively men) tell other people to smile. The person telling someone to smile may think they are doing something that will make the recipient feel better, but in truth they are asking the person to make them feel better. Next time you want to tell someone to smile, try finishing the sentence in your head first…

“smile, because you not doing so is making me feel uncomfortable”

If saying it in your head doesn’t do the trick, try saying it out loud.

If you don’t want to say it out loud, ask yourself why you are ok with telling someone to smile in the first place! You, along with everyone else have been conditioned by society to believe this is part of a woman’s role, the one who is pleasant and smiley and far too soft to go for promotions and aggressively chase careers and pay rises. What’s more there is a pervasive belief that if a woman does do these things there is something wrong with them. Its one of the more subtle ways that women are taught to know their place, but it is there.

It is time for all of this to change.

It is time that people realise that smiling is not obligatory for anyone. No-one should feel obliged to smile for the sake of others. If you are angry or sad or concerned, it is your absolute right to show it. You don’t have to, it is your face you can choose what to show on it, but don’t feel that you have to smile to appease those around you.

And, next time you feel that you need to tell someone to smile, think a little bit about whether you really want to perpetuate this sort of conditioning and stereotyped behavior, and consider whether you really want to run the risk of being forced in to a feminist discussion with the likes of me…

8 Comments »

  1. It’s been years since anyone said that to me–that may be because I’ve gotten too old for them to care, which is good. But the only proper response, I think, is a single finger. It saves words. Why waste them on idiots?

    Liked by 2 people

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