Hey, Maybe You SHOULD Smile

Alright, we get it. This is just your face. You’ve always looked this way. No one who randomly sees you on the street or at the supermarket has any idea what’s going on in your life or how you’re feeling. It’s possible that you’re stopping in to buy some coffee because last night your puppy was attacked by a rabid squirrel and you cried yourself to sleep after your father took that beautiful dog out back and shot him. Or maybe your neighbor poisoned your cat. Or your boyfriend admitted that he was Joe Francis, he’s just been in disguise so that he could record your raunchy sex life. That could have happened. And it could have made you really sad and upset and blotchy, if you’re fair-skinned like me. If that did happen and some random stranger walks up to you and tells you to smile, you have every right to scream, “Fuck you! I’m going to be middle school spank-fodder for the rest of my life! I don’t want to smile!” in their face. Then whimper a little and make the whole coffee shop hate this person for being rude and presumptuous.

But really, any stranger randomly telling you to do anything is annoying. “Smile”. “Give me some spare change”. “Vote for Ron Paul”. Whatever. Those people who talk to you on the street deserve a good scowl. I’m not arguing about the obnoxiousness of people assuming they know you or your thoughts, or that you care about their opinion. Obviously, you don’t care about their opinion.

Why is it obvious? Oh, because you look like you just found out you were dating Joe Francis. And scowling is not a good look. If you cared about people’s opinions, you would try to hide that scowl. Or at least save it for special occasions, like family get-togethers and discussions on how Lindsay Lohan has affected our culture. Instead, you wear that frown constantly. Whether you just got a promotion or buried a relative, there you are looking angry. And for some reason, when you look angry, you tend to sound angry too. Maybe it’s just my eyes dominating my ears in the nuance department, but people who constantly look pissed off have this wonderful way of spitting out words. It kind of sounds like they were just fooled by dessert gum and have now lost all their faith in humanity.

So, now that I’ve convinced you not to hate me for saying this… I convinced you, right? You’re not going to leave angry comments saying, “YOU DON’T KNOW ME, BITCH”? Ok, good. Now that I’ve convinced you not to hate me, maybe you really should try smiling. It’s fun. It makes people think you’re happy. Happy people are a lot more fun to be around. Most people are pretty when they smile. If you’re smiling, no one will know that you’re actually imagining really awful things happening to all the people you dislike. I’m trying to convince you frowners that smiling is fun, but I have an ulterior motive.

Whenever I’m around someone who constantly looks mad and gets all defensive about being told to smile, I get this urge to very politely and kindly look them in the eye and say, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but you aren’t special.” As my daughter’s nanny would say, “It can’t always be your turn.” Basically, anything to tell these angry people that just because they are in a shitty mood, they don’t need to inflict it on everyone around them.

Let’s face it, most people aren’t reacting to some elusive “bitchface”. They are commenting on your actions or demeanor or off-putting persona. When someone tells you to smile, it’s because you seem unpleasant. And no one likes to be around people who always seem unpleasant. Maybe it was your condescending tone as you glowered at the barrista, maybe it was your impatient grunt as you pushed your way through a group of people. Very rarely are people commenting on the expression of your face. You can look as angry as you’d like if you’re chatting politely with an old lady that you decided to help carry her groceries. I bet no one will tell you to smile. But if you’re tapping your toes and rolling your eyes in line at the grocery, as if no one else’s time could possibly be as important as yours, you are a lot more likely to hear, “Hey, cheer up!”

What I’m trying to say is, those obnoxious people who assume that they know you, they might have a point. They are still rude. They should still keep their mouths shut. But maybe you should smile. You aren’t special and your bad mood doesn’t need to ruin everyone else’s day. I’m not saying that you should walk around kissing babies and singing with birds and pretending that you’ve had the most amazing day of your life. A smile wouldn’t hurt though.

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    • Lo

      I can smile as frequently as the next person – it makes me look like Ralph Wiggum, but what the hell – but I find that, when I’m relaxed, my face naturally falls into a zombielike position. It doesn’t reflect my mood or the courtesy I try to show to other people, but even if I’ve smiled and chatted, folks will still ask me if I’m feeling okay.

      If, on the other hand, I am genuinely in a bad mood, I try not to use it an an excuse to be a dick, but nor can I fake a smile. It’s creepy. Stepford Ralph Wiggum. There’s a difference between treating people well and forcing myself to be perky.

      • Lindsay Cross

        I can completely respect this distinction! I’m not saying we all need to be Mary Poppins. I just don’t like when people are rude and then act like, “My face just naturally looks like I want to slap you right now.” I think there’s a difference between what you’re talking about and what I was trying to point out.

      • Lo

        If you’re talking about people cheating and using chronic bitchface as an excuse for plain rudeness, I certainly agree. I was talking about the distinction between how we look and how we act (zombies can be nice people too, etc.), because I think this article lumped the two together. (That said, I’m quite keen on adopting a sinister Mary Poppins smile for the rest of the week).

    • Allie

      Wait, does Lindsay live in New York? Because if I walk around without scowling, I’m basically opening myself up for every crazy on the subway to accost me, and every cab driver to ask me about my sex life (you’d be amazed at how often this happens, I have a naturally friendly-looking face and get punished for it.) Now, in suburbia, or even in the office, sure. Put away the bitchface. But sometimes it’s necessary.

      • Lindsay Cross

        I don’t live in New York. I live in the Midwest, and maybe this does cloud my judgement on such issues. Thankfully, smiles rarely get me harassed. Normally, they just lead to polite, cheerful and meaningless banter when I run errands.

      • Jen Dziura

        A fine point, Allie. I have never gotten such a question from a cab driver. Nor, I think, does anyone think I have a “naturally friendly-looking face.” You definitely have to keep it serious/aloof to keep away the crazies. It makes me sad sometimes that if someone actually gives you a real compliment, you can’t even sincerely say thank you sometimes, because it just invites inappropriate contact.

        For instance, I am walking down the street and a guy says “Great sense of style!” (This really happened). I am pleasantly surprised! (This is a real compliment, not an entreaty to sex with strangers!) So I say, “Thank you very much” and continue walking. As I pass him, he follows up with “Nice ass. I love the way you move that ass when you walk.” (In case it is not clear, I do not appreciate this at all, and it totally ruined the enjoyment I got from the previous compliment).

        So, there you go.

    • Kay

      You know, normally I agree with a lot of what this sight says. But you know what? This kind of pisses me off.

      Being told to smile? Yeah, only women get that. I’ve never once met a guy that was told ‘Smile, honey. It’s not that bad.” Me? I get that all the time.

      My smile, my mood, and what I chose to do with my face….yeah, it doesn’t exist to make the world a better place. I’m not a dog that follows orders. I’m not here to smile and make some guy’s day a little brighter. My face (in my case anyway) reflects my current mood. My current mood is sometimes happy, and I smile. Sometimes it’s not, and I frown. And sometimes? It’s completely nuetral and I don’t give a damn how it makes other people feel.

      Seriously? Telling woman to smile? I kind of expected more from this sight. And telling women to “Smile and maybe you won’t be such a bitch”? Give me a break!

      If I choose (or anyone chooses) to wear a permanent scowl, what difference does it make to you? Why do you care? Maybe if you’d get your nose out of other people’s business, people would scowl at you less.

      • teenie

        totes agree with Kay – in reality, this practice of advising random people you don’t know to smile seems to only be done to women. it seems to be a subtle way of saying “look toots, you’re much more valuable if you’re pretty to look at, so why doncha smile no matter what? eh? thatta girl…”

        THIS is why I hate it. I never hear women telling me to smile, or that I have a “bitchface” – it’s only men. Women seem to be completely OK with how I wear my face.

        BTW, the author’s attitude during the whole post made me wanna vomit. It’s like a cross between my least favorite elementary school teacher and a stepford wife/cheerleader type. Go stuff it. For real.

      • teenie

        …and one more thing… “as my daughter’s nanny would say…”

        ??? seriously? way to alienate yourself from the majority of your readers. ugh. I need to stop reading this now. you sound like nobody I want to take advice from. Maybe present this topic at the next Junior’s League event you go to.

      • Jen Dziura

        Wait, can we all get together and make a viral video featuring bossy women telling annoyed/intimidated men to “Smile, honey, it’s not that bad”?

      • Anon

        Wow, way to take this way too seriously. The author acknowledged that the whole strangers telling you to smile thing is annoying and rude. She was just trying to make a point, and being pretty diplomatic about it.
        Oh, and seriously, who cares how rich she is or if her daughter has a nanny?

      • Lindsay Cross

        For clarification’s sake, we call our daycare provider “nanny”. It’s how I refer to her. It’s how all of the kids and parents refer to her. She is a wonderful, hysterical woman who watches children at her home. Including mine. I actually wrote about her for The Gloss once. The comment wasn’t made to insinuate a certain socio-economic class. It was made because I think it’s a great way to explain a type of attitude. We all know people who constantly think it’s their turn.


      • Cheryl

        Hey, there Teenie!

        Guess what, punkin? Just ’cause a lady won’t tell you that you have a bitchface doesn’t mean she doesn’t think so. A pleasant person is more likely to succeed than an unpleasant one, as has been demonstrated in so many studies. I read this article and thought, “About damn time somebody said this.” It’s ridiculous to assume that your mood and behavior don’t affect others and I would guess from the tone of your comments that you frequently allow the actions of others to influence you and bring you to anger.

        And that’s probably why you have a bitchface.

      • teenie

        Hey there Cheryl!

        Since I’m more direct and less prone to using sarcasm as a passive-aggressive device to get your point across in an ineffective way, I’m going to give it to you straight.

        I’m very pleasant, and successful. I’ve got a large, warm circle of friends and family who I love, I’ve got an amazing boyfriend, and a wonderful life. I am a happy person, and I share that happiness regularly.

        But, when relaxed or just doing my thing without emotion, my face looks “sullen” (or so I’ve been told). I usually rectify the situation by smiling and saying “oh no no! I’m fine!”

        This cartoon made me happy! it made me smile! because it’s something I deal with often enough, living in a big city with people who are WAY too presumptuous about how a woman should act or feel at any given moment. I enjoy and actively pursue knowledge on feminist theory, and this is something that (clearly) just gets my goat.

        We don’t have to be pretty or happy to be valuable. There are others who may try to say so, but I heartily disagree. As women, we have many other tools in our collection to bring value to society – tools that we can develop and control, unlike (many times) our appearance, which is kind of the luck of the (genetic) draw.

        So I’m angry about this because the tone that the author used seems to miss the point of the cartoon, and just take us back a few steps in terms of reclaiming our value in society.

        Is that more clear for you?

        Thanks. You should take some pointers about being angry and masking it with insincere friendliness.

    • magda

      Its not like I never smile. I do. I just perfer to wear a genuine smile than to force a smile. I actually laugh and smile more than most people, but when I am in, repose, I guess you could say, my face just looks serious. Its not that I’m frowning. My mouth is just straight. Like not creased in a frown or smile.

      And I do agree that this “natural” facial expression is helpfull. It keeps me from getting acosted by people wanting me to sign stuff, or people wanting me to join their bible study, or even just from getting hit on by that creepy guy who looks like he has a hair fetish.

    • S

      There is a different between serious and sour. I think the point of this article is twofold: 1) regardless, the people who exhort strange women to smile because it pleases them are dickholes, and 2) consider briefly, “am I the kind of person who constantly looks like a sour bitch all the time, and if so, is that something I would like to change because it doesn’t help me make friends or have pleasant interactions and also it makes the bad wrinkles?” (good wrinkles = crows’ feet and smile lines around your mouth. Bad wrinkles = frowny pissy face wrinkles)

      Seriously though if you navigate your life like a grumpy person who hates everyone, don’t worry, we hate you back. Even when I’m in the worst mood, I’m nice to strangers. They didn’t wreck my day, why would I wreck a little part of theirs?

      South and Midwest unite for being nice to people.

      • Amanda

        And this is why I don’t live in a red state…

        I’m a New Yorker, I’ll fucking scowl as much as I want. When someone tells me “smile, sweetie, life isn’t that bad.” I tell them to “go fuck themselves” then storm off in my designer shoes… all in the hopes of getting to tell someone else to “fuck off,” within the next block or two.

        In fact, I only smile when I see the suffering of others… because I’m truly that evil. Winning.

    • Jessica Pauline Ogilvie

      Looks like a lot of people don’t like hearing that it’s not always their turn….

      • anons

        Really, Jessica Pauline Ogilvie? What’s changed since this?

        “By Jessica Pauline Ogilvie
        152 days ago

        the sad thing is that EVERYONE knows what you’re talking about. why are we constantly being told to smile? are we really expected to walk around in a constant state of moronic, meaningless joy?

        anyway, someone told me to smile over the weekend (at the time, per usual, i did not realize that i looked so miserable) and i just said, “oh, come on now. don’t say that.” which felt sort of good because really, i do think people should know better than to say things that remarkably idiotic. he laughed, which leaves me with absolutely no idea if he knew what i was talking about or not.”

    • This is why I don’t get the love for NY

      The girl from NY says she has to scowl or people will accost her. WTF? That’s a shame, come to California, we smile all the time and no one bothers us for it. Life is good, why not smile? New Yorkers always insist their city is the best place to live, but no one seems happy there… why would I want to live with a bunch of scowling, miserable people!? :)

      • Ashley Cardiff

        as a californian that lives in new york, i would like to say this statement is fucking ridiculous. …however, if this is actually an inside joke about how much californians love to make absurd, untrue claims, then… i get it.

      • Jennifer Wright

        I’ve always – perhaps wrongly – gotten the impression that people in California say “hi, how’re you doing, sweetie?” and mean “fuck you” while people in New York say “fuck you” and mean, “hi, how’re you doing, sweetie?”

      • porkchop

        And in the south, when people say “bless your heart” I feel like sometimes it means “go f*** yourself.” Not sure though, I’m just a midwestern girl who smiles as strangers.

    • Jennifer Wright

      I like to smile! This is how I smile! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buZZyUBwymA

      • Lisa

        I need to practice smiling like you!

    • sarah

      jheeze smile don’t smile just dont cry in public i think everyone should keep that in mind and stop debating already coz i really cant stand public cryers….just sayin. maybe its coz im from london where the bitchface thing is essential and im sure people who smile randomly at peple usually wind up getting punched in the face over here, its actually quite entertaining. this is a funny website :)

    • Liv

      How did the topic of that illustration from yesterday have anything to do with those people thinking they were special? The point of the cartoon was people (and by people, I mean women, because as some have already pointed out, this never happens to men…) getting told by perfect strangers based on nothing but their FACE that they look mad or sad.

      It seems like in this article you are talking about people who purposefully put on a scowl or are rude/unpleaseant in their INTERACTIONS with people due to some unrelated inconveniences and then get mad at those people for telling them to cheer up. And you’re right, no matter how your day has gone, you shouldn’t take it out on a barista or a crowd of people in your way. Nobody’s special in that regard. But, once again, that’s not what the cartoon or most of its commenters were talking about.

      “Let’s face it, most people aren’t reacting to some elusive “bitchface”. They are commenting on your actions or demeanor or off-putting persona.”

      I beg to differ a bit on that one. Although saying that I have a “bitch-face” is kind of exagerating (I guess I lean more towards an “unenthused zombie-face” when my face is in its natural, resting position), I do deal with the occasional stranger (and by stranger I mean men) telling me to “Smile!”. And I don’t mean a stranger that I’m interacting in some direct or indirect way. I have literally been walking down a clear street, minding my business, probably thinking of what I need to get done, and someone will go out of their way to suggest that I cheer up, even if I’ve been having a wonderful day. And when I see my pictures, I can understand the interpretation. I have a slight case of ptosis (droopy eyelids) and my mouth is naturally turned down just a bit, making me look like I’m bored, slightly annoyed, and at times even kind of drunk lol. But I would never force a scowl, it gives me a headache. And amongst my friends and family, I’m regularly criticized for being overly-polite to strangers.

      That type of situation is what the “Chronic Bitch-face” cartoon was mocking. If someone 10 feet away from me that I’m not even looking at is being made to suffer because I’m not plastering a fake smile on my face, oh-freakin’-well. They really need to get a life. I don’t feel like putting on an unnatural smile every time I walk out of the door, regardless of my actual mood, so that people I don’t know and won’t ever see again will perceive me as a happy person.

    • Joe

      As an emo-guy from LA who works for an agency and has to travel to NY often (hence requiring a puffy orange vest for warmth), and has a tendency to get nose-bleeds due to said travel, I find this offensive.. I used to be a trader at CSFB, which was nice because I would only date high-quality girls who could afford to shop at Bloomie’s or better. So much better than when I was 19 and dated this crazy neurotic 16 yr old who wanted me to marry her before we ever hooked up, just because I had some shitty car. You know, back when I was a Grain Belt-drinking, porch-lazing, Monster Truck rally-watching Minnesotan. Given my history, I’m just not the type of person to do much smiling. It’s not my fault, it’s yours.

      So yeah, what? WHAT!? I’m scowling at you. YOU! YOU AND YOUR FACE!