That is not me talking. That is Will Ferrell playing Buddy in the movie Elf. I would never say such a thing, at least not seriously, but I smile every time I hear it in the movie because it is cute and amusing. I smile at a lot of cute and amusing things. You know what isn’t cute and amusing? When people tell me to smile for no reason other than I guess they feel it is a nice way to spread good cheer. Or perhaps they have taken a job as the new Commissioner of Facial Expressions. I don’t know. It is truly all a mystery to me.
It’s not like I never smile. As I’ve already said, I smile when things are cute or amusing; once in a while I even smile when things are only vaguely pleasant. I smile when things are funny. Sometimes I smile when I am happy, though other times I choose to be happy without forcing my cheek and jaw muscles to get involved. I understand that smiling is good and I admire, even occasionally envy, all the naturally smiley people.
The thing is that I am just not one of them. At all.
Above is a shot of my pre-school self; I am the slightly angry-looking one near the middle. In sixth grade I was voted the second crabbiest kid in the class, and I wasn’t even in a bad mood. In high school, I was physically assaulted several times due to my tendency to give “dirty looks,” and as a waitress, I was told to smile so many times that I eventually had to quit before I found myself physically assaulting my customers. It’s pretty exhausting, but you know. You do what you can to get by.
What’s nice is that there is a name for this nowadays – they call it “Resting Bitch Face,” or RBF for short. RBF is the phenomenon where a person’s face looks mean or unpleasant or even just disinterested when at rest. So when I am not actively smiling, it seems that I look actively unhappy. I don’t know why they needed to come up with a term for this but I’m glad they did, because I like to know that my own difficulties in life are actually common enough to deserve a name. “Resting Bitch Face” might be a tiny bit derogatory as far as descriptions go, but I don’t care. I’ve been called worse and often by my own father. The sense of community among us RBF’s is what’s important here.
The good news is, I’ve recently inducted a new member into our society: my very own son, aged 8 ½. I haven’t told him yet, because a) he would be quite angry, and b) he’s only 8 ½ and I don’t feel right telling him he’s part of a group with a swear word in its title. I am finicky that way. Also a very good mother.
Which really goes to show you, even very good mothers can raise children who don’t smile as often as perhaps society would like them to. My kid is poised to be a real leader in the RBF fellowship. Even as a baby, he had a very serious look about him – people would try to tickle him or tease him or do whatever people do to force babies to smile, and he would remain delightfully stone-faced, as if to say, “Hey stranger, I don’t know why you’re making such an ass of yourself, but please keep in mind that I’m a baby, not an idiot. God. Get a grip.”
I always loved this about him, and while it’s nice to see a child looking happy, I do believe one has to stick to one’s true nature no matter what. Still, I know the years ahead are going to be tough for him. He’ll just be walking along, minding his business and practically at every corner someone will pop up to say, “Smile, kid! Cheer up! Let’s see those teeth!” And so on. If he’s anything like me, the demands of the smile police will not make him happy but instead, vaguely homicidal.
So to the smiling public, I would like to say – please. We are happy even if our faces say otherwise, so relax. We will smile when it comes naturally.
As for my child, one of these days I will have to tell him: kid, it gets better. Because it does. You hit middle age and become invisible, and nobody gives a shit if you’re smiling or not. Which is nice, it really is. Believe it or not, it’s actually something to smile about.