All my life, I have had a naturally grumpy face. By this, I mean that when I'm just sat in silence, or walking down a street - anything where I'm not interacting with people really - I look like I'm in a bad mood. Regardless of whether I'm actually in a bad mood or not, my face just sits that way. Recently, this has (in some ways unhelpfully) become known as "resting bitch face". My brother has the exact same facial expression, but does he get the barrage of "give us a smile, love!" and "cheer up, darling!" from complete strangers that I have had to put up with all my life? No, he doesn't.
You can see the same trend in the media, where again it is specifically women who are targeted for being photographed without a beaming smile on their face. Celebrities like Kristen Stewart and Victoria Beckham are constantly criticised for appearing "miserable" in paparazzi shots or on the red carpet. When was the last time you saw a male celebrity receive this kind of treatment? It seems that men can appear however they want, without facing abuse in magazines and tabloids. In fact, a positive spin would probably be put on a stern faced man. He'd be called "smouldering", or "brooding", or something ridiculous like that.
This is something that has always bothered me, mainly because so often, it is not recognised as harassment. It's one of those everyday events that so many people wouldn't even think twice about doing, or putting up with. Well, it is harassment, and it is sexist. Today, for example, I was in a university class, and the male student sat next to me, someone who I would not consider a friend, who I have never even had a conversation with, felt the need to comment on how I "always" have a grumpy face. Besides it being immeasurably creepy that he must have been examining my face for some time, without ever actually speaking to me, why did he think that was appropriate? Why did he feel like he had a right to comment on what I do with my body, and on any emotions I may have? Would he have said it to a male student?
First of all, these people, the smile police, are strangers, so they don't have a genuine interest in your wellbeing. It's not the same as a friend or a family member, for example, asking you if everything is okay because you're looking a bit down. Personally, I have no problem with my face. I don't care if I'm not smiling, because what difference does it make to me? If I know I'm feeling great on the inside, why does it matter what face I am putting out to strangers? Obviously there are occasions where having a smile on your face, whether you mean it or not, is necessary; if you work in customer service for example. But in my day-to-day life, the expression on my face is no one else's business.
Putting on a fake smile doesn't benefit me, and therefore the benefit is purely for the seemingly well-meaning smile requester. They are telling you to smile so that they have something prettier to look at whilst they go about their day. It's not about making the woman feel happier at all. So, if putting on a fake smile is purely to make me look more attractive, why should I? Women do not exist purely to decorate the world. Shocking, I know. Women are constantly being pressured to look perfect, to be appealing to people they don't even know, and commanding them to smile is just another extension of this.
It also bothers me that if one chooses not to fake a smile, it's assumed that they're uptight, or a miserable person, or just a bitch. This could not be more false. My friends, boyfriend, family, would all tell you that I'm a happy, outgoing person, with a pretty optimistic outlook on life. Actually, my issue is that my face is an extension of my body. It is mine, I can do what I like with it, and no one else should be allowed to have a say in that. In fact, trying to force a smile out of me will probably make my face even grumpier. You know how there are situations where you weren't actually angry, until someone repeatedly accused you of being angry? It's like that. Except in this case, it's about control. Many men feel intrinsically entitled to control women's bodies, and their emotions. They feel as though they have an in-built right to have a say in what you're doing with your face, purely because they're a man, and you're a woman.
One of the most common smile requests is "it might never happen". I can't even count the amount of times this has been said to me. But you know what, smile police, maybe "it" has happened. They have absolutely no idea what has just happened to you, what may be going on in your life. Or maybe I'm just so fed up of this everyday harassment that so many people see as acceptable (of which this is just the tip of the iceberg), that I actually am a little bit pissed off. Give me something to smile about, and maybe I will. Until then, my resting bitch face is here to stay, and I will continue to wear it with pride.