Resting Bitch Face? My Smile Experiment Made Me A Happier Parent
No more Resting Bitch Face for this Mama! Like so many other mothers, I’ve spent my entire life being told to smile. Or, “You’d look so much prettier if you smiled!” Usually, they are strangers telling me to give them a smile in elevators, line ups, bars, or sometimes even as we walk past each other on the street.
The OLD me would have inwardly raged, “Who are you to tell me to smile? Maybe I don’t want to fucking smile. Why do you even care if I smile or not? I don’t know you!”
The truth is, it’s not that I don’t, or didn’t, want to smile. I have a million things to smile about! Honestly? I just never knew that I wasn’t smiling…until somebody would point it out. I think my neutral expression, unfortunately, is referred to as “Resting Bitch Face.” I needed to know if I suffered from this. so I asked a colleague to look at my neutral face as I stared at her.
“Yes, if I didn’t know you, I’d think you were a bitch,” she responded. I had to laugh.
I’m not the only one who hates being told to smile. In a New York Times piece, which mentions an essay entitled “An American Woman Quits Smiling,” Lisa Ko writes about her “smiling boycott.” She writes, “I decided to stop smiling because I was tired. Tired of the “Can I get a smile?” and “Smile, it’s not that bad!” comments that are a too common part of city life. Tired of things like the “Smile! You look tired” demand from the T.S.A. agent who recently inspected my bag at the airport.”
Like me, Ko’s neutral expression isn’t exactly beaming. “Smiling when you don’t feel like it has been proven to make you feel good by producing actual feelings of happiness. I’ve tried it, and it does work, but I don’t want to be ordered to smile. If a smile is the appearance of happiness, then to be commanded to smile takes away our right to our own feelings,” she writes. (Yeah, it’s a little deep for talking about smiles. Anyway…)
She, too, questions if there’s “just something about my neutral expression that comes across as seeming worried or displeased. People have asked if there was something wrong when I was feeling just fine…”
Unlike Ko, I’m NOT on a smile boycott. I’ve been doing the exact opposite. I’ve been on a smiling mission/experiment. I’ve been forcing myself to smile for almost two months now, as soon as I wake up. And I have to say, I’m a much, much happier person. Thanks to actively making myself smile throughout the day, I not only feel great most days, but I have also had many short but entertaining conversations with strangers in line-ups, elevators, with waiters, with other mothers in stores, and other women sitting beside me getting manicures, and even my daughter’s friends.
Nowadays, I pretty much smile at anyone I interact with.
And, yes, it’s made me a happier parent. At the beginning of my smile experiment, I forced myself to smile, counting to 30 seconds, as soon as my alarm went off, then about ten times throughout the day, and definitely before I walked into the madness that comes with kids, after a day of work. And guess what? It turns out people are super nice to you when you smile at them. Your children are so, so happy to see you smile. Here I thought everyone in Toronto was an asshole. (I kid.) Smiles, like yawns, are contagious. Try it for a day! Smile at everyone and 90 percent of the time, they’ll smile back! It feels good, not just to smile, but to have someone smile at you, especially when it comes from your offspring.
I now even force myself to smile after asshole drivers won’t let me change lanes, or if I’m stuck in traffic. I find, if I make myself smile before driving somewhere, my stress level, road rage, and cursing while driving with my kiddos, almost completely disappears. I have forced myself to turn my frown upside down, especially in front of my children.
At the start of my smile experiment, I was faking my smiles, which according to this article entitled, “Smiling Can Trick Your Brain into happiness – and boost your health,” can trick your brain into believing you’re happy, which leads to true feeling of happiness. The author of the piece interviewed a cosmetic dentist, Dr. Sivan Finkel, who said, “A study performed by a group at the University of Cardiff in Wales found that people who could not frown due to botox injections were happier on average than those who could frown.”
Okay, a bit about Botox, because it was my daughter who made me get my first Botox injection about three years ago (I go twice a year.) One day, I was sitting on the steps waiting for my daughter to get her shoes on. I must have had my resting bitch face on because my daughter said, “You look angry!” To which I responded, “I’m not mad at all! This is just my…face!” It was true. I wasn’t mad. In fact, I had been in a great mood. So I got Botox to get rid of my frown lines, so my daughter wouldn’t think I was angry. Who knew Botox makes you happier? But I digress.
My smile experiment has also made me a much calmer mother, especially when my six-year-old thinks bedtime, going to school and brushing his teeth are optional.
When, or if, someone pisses me off now, I make myself smile for 30 seconds, and realize it’s not THAT big a deal, and I quickly get over it. Now, I no longer have to force a smile. It’s become a habit and natural, for me, to smile at strangers on the street, as I pass by, at Uber drivers, cashiers, and basically anyone who looks at me.
In Spector’s article, she quotes someone who purposely smiles, as I have been doing. “Smiling absolutely changes the way I think and feel,” says Jaime Pfeffer, a success coach and meditation instructor. “My husband and I purposely spend 60 seconds every morning smiling to supercharge our mood. It’s part of our morning routine. If something goes awry during the day, I usually use smiling to quickly shift my mood. It only takes 10 to 15 seconds for it to make a difference for me now. It helps me to feel less stressed, transform my mood quickly and put things in a different perspective.” Yup, this is so me now!
I now find myself smiling so much, I do genuinely feel happy and relaxed, especially when I’m out with my kids. (A cute but odd story… When I last went to get Botox, about six months ago, I asked the doctor what she could do with my smile lines. She told me to “stop smiling so much.” And I think she was serious!)
The best part is that I no longer have resting bitch face. No one has told me to smile since I’ve started my experiment, which REALLY makes me smile! (Guess what I’m doing right now?)