“Aisling is an excellent student. If only she would smile more.”
So said one of my teachers to my mother in a parent-teacher meeting over ten years ago.
Thank you for your opinion, Teach. But smiling won’t pass the Leaving Cert for me, will it? Maybe stick to your job of actually educating me and not worry yourself about my facial expressions.
(Also: I’m enduring adolescence in a rural Irish secondary school, and sitting through your double class on a Monday morning. I don’t really have much reason to smile even if I was that way inclined.)
Social media and society have dubbed it ‘Resting Bitch Face’, so for the purpose of this post, if that’s what you want to call it, then yes, I hold my hands up – I have Resting Bitch Face and always have. Even as a toddler, my grandmother apparently used to comment on how ‘serious’ I looked. I’m rarely smiling in any of my baby photos. It didn’t mean I wasn’t a happy child. If anything, I think it just establishes more that I’m just one of those people whose passive expressions are just not that, well, smiley.
Being chastised for not smiling is something that has followed me into adulthood. It’s still one of my mother’s pet hates (she still brings up the teacher’s comment) and even strangers on nights out have pointed it out (“Smile, love, it might never happen” is a common one, and even “You’d be so much prettier if you smiled”).
What irks me is no one has ever made the same comments to my father, my brother or any of my male peers, and I don’t know about you – but that strikes me as unfair, and a representation of society’s underlying attitudes towards the gender divide.
US Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has received backlash for her so-called inability to smile during her public addresses. Yet, her male counterparts, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, have not been on the receiving end of the same criticism.
After tennis ace Serena Williams partook in a post-US Open-win press conference, a male reporter asked her why she was not smiling. Her response was that she was tired and wanted to go to bed (she had just played a tennis match, after all!), but Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic have never been asked that question if they’re not jumping for joy after a big win.
When a man doesn’t smile, he’s seen as brooding, mysterious, deep, intelligent, even handsome.
When a woman doesn’t smile, she’s seen as a moody bitch who needs to cheer the fuck up.
Now you tell me what’s wrong with that.
Maybe society is okay with a woman becoming President of the US, as long as she is constantly beaming, unthreatening, homely, and maternal. Well, guess what. Hillary Clinton is planning on becoming the leader of the ‘Free World’ – she doesn’t have time for that shit – she’ll have far more important things to worry about.
US Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton shouldn't have to smile to get her point across. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
Maybe society is totally fine with women achieving big wins in sport, as long as they are modest, humble, overwhelmed and so totally shocked with their achievements that they cannot keep the smiles off their faces. Well, I think Serena Williams knows by now that she’s pretty badass at tennis. So she can be forgiven for not jumping for joy at a press conference, when all she wants to do is rest after a big match.
In showbiz, it’s beamers like Kate Hudson, Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, and Blake Lively, who, with their sunshine expressions, are regarded as the darlings of the celebrity world, while the likes of Victoria Beckham, Kristen Stewart, and Anna Wintour are regularly slated for their more serious demeanours.
All of the above have expansive CVs boasting various achievements, awards and talents. It’s just the former are applauded because their smiles make them seem more thankful for their lifestyles, while the latter are berated, because their more solemn appearances portray them as moody, ungrateful, sullen.
We are the 'fairer sex', after all, and with that label comes an expectation to sit quietly, look pretty, and constantly appear cheerful and engaging, while the men deal with the more 'serious' issues.
Nah, sorry, not buying it.
So just to make it clear.
Just because I don’t plaster a big clown smirk on my face 24/7 does not mean I am always in a foul mood, and the same goes for every woman with a ‘Resting Bitch Face’. Or, as it should be rightfully called, a face.
Oh and to that teacher who made that comment all those years ago – guess what? I managed to pass the Leaving Cert, get a degree and a Masters – all without smiling.
Who’da thunk it, eh?