I’m Calling Time on Resting Bitch Face
Last Monday I bought myself a little pick me up in the form of a shiny new ‘Don’t ask me 2 smile’ badge from Sistrhood faves Shopfloorwhore. Not only is my new badge super cool, it’s going to be a real time saver. In the hours, that I’ll save not having to fend off strange men who insist I smile I could learn Morse code, take up whittling or maybe learn the art of crafting with cat hair.
Here are just a few scenarios in which a member of the opposite sex has demanded I smile:
- In a huge, unspeakably sweaty queue at the post office
- Walking to a job I hated
- During a shift at said hated job
- Immediately after he’d made an inappropriate comment to me in the street
- At school photo day
Here are the reasons I didn’t smile:
- I was in a huge, unspeakably sweaty queue at the post office and he didn’t have autonomy over my face
- I was walking to a job I hated and I wasn’t there for his entertainment
- I was at a job I hated and the exact composition of my facial muscles was none of his business
- He’d just made an inappropriate comment to me and I didn’t want to give him my approval
- OK. I smiled for this one. This is the one and only exception
Let’s take a quick look, shall we, at the post office case. The man who told me to smile was wearing a battered JD Sports bag slung across his shoulders, tracksuit bottoms caked in mud and harboured the confident swagger only a man unaware of such a pungent body odour could have. I could feel his eyes following me around the room until I eventually ducked behind a shelf to escape his gaze. After relocating me and getting me on lock, missile style, he uttered those magic words we all
long dread to hear: “You should smile”.
“I don’t smile on demand”, was my reply. The man looked confused. Perhaps all of his previous targets had politely complied in order to get rid of him. Perhaps his mere presence was usually enough to cause women to spontaneously burst into song. Whatever the reason, the fact that I didn’t care to muster the will to contort those twenty or so muscles into a smile put his nose out of joint so he slunk away, dejected and, I like to hope, questioning his conversation starting prowess.
Why must we be beaming at all times? I might be having a shitty day. I might be thinking about something sad. I might be Serena Williams, exhausted from having just beaten my sister at the US Open and, frankly, sick of your unending questions. (This last one is, admittedly, unlikely). Equally, I might be having the best day of my entire life and that still doesn’t mean that I am under orders to exhibit this happiness upon my mug at all times.
No matter the arguments to the contrary, being told to smile because ‘you look so pretty when you smile’ isn’t a compliment, nor is it sweet, nor is it flirting. It’s flat out controlling. And here is where I call time on resting bitch face. The idea of resting bitch face plays into the hands of the face police (which is what I’m calling them from here on out). The face police can’t accept that women’s faces aren’t always perfectly poised. The face police feel entitled to tell women how to compose themselves. The face police think women owe them a smile.
Many descriptions of resting bitch face end with the clause, “…even though that’s just her natural face”, or something to similar effect. I have enough to think about what with getting paid less, being underrepresented in parliament and having my reproductive rights constantly questioned without having to worry about adjusting my natural face for public consumption.
A few Kanye memes here and there aside, resting bitch face is a term angled almost exclusively at women. It’s just another insult to add to the others (slut, shrill, bossy, bitch, frigid, whore…) when we dare to step out of the impossibly narrow parameters society sets us.
I do not ‘suffer’ from resting bitch face. Rather you, post office man and others like you, suffer from a very specific and unearned sense of entitlement. So, enough. Enough labels, enough expectation, enough entitlement and enough exerting control over women.
And the next time someone tells you to smile? Perhaps you can take a cue from the Broad City girls for your response…