I'll Smile When I Want To: Why Resting Bitch Face Is Sexist

“Give me a smile.”

We’ve all heard that phrase in some form or another. People used to say things like that to me when I was a kid. They used to ask me, “Why aren’t you smiling?” I thought nothing of it. I thought, this is a little annoying, but I’m sure I just look sad, and that’s my fault.

As I got older, I noticed it happening more frequently and under different circumstances. Now, it could happen while I’m walking down the street. It could happen during a conversation with a neighbor, a family member or a professor. They’ll say things like “Why do you look so sad?” or “What’s wrong?” Even when I least expect it, it happens. It sneaks up on me like a haunting ghost I can’t shake. 

Well, guess what, everybody? Nothing’s wrong just because I’m not smiling all the time.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason people think it’s alright to say things like that is because I present as a woman, under the heteronormative guidelines our society dictates.

Think about it. Under what circumstances can you imagine it being appropriate or even socially acceptable to proposition a man to smile…let alone a stranger on the street? The answer is that it’s never appropriate, regardless of how one chooses to outwardly express their appearance. It doesn’t matter how you self identify or what you look like, you should not be expected to smile for the world. Especially if you don’t feel like it!

The term for “not smiling,” or whatever you want to call it, has widely become known as “Resting Bitch Face.” RBF is not only sexist, but the use of the phrase perpetuates the reduction of women in our culture to mere sexual objects for men. We see this all the time through the advertisements we’re presented with, but how often do we stop and actually question the colloquialisms that we have come to embrace and adopt into our everyday language? Attention hegemony, I am not a fan of the male gaze, and I’ll smile when I want to!

And it’s no coincidence that people started saying things of that nature to me more as I got older. I went from being expected to be a pretty and cute little girl to a sexy and desirable woman. This was just expected. I wasn’t consulted, as other women aren’t either. Aside from the obvious aforementioned issues with using the term RBF, it also lays blame on every women. Meaning, by continuing to use “Resting Bitch Face” to describe one another, we’re victim blaming each other. As women, we become each other’s enemies rather than advocates. You never hear a man saying “Why aren’t you smiling, dude?” to another man. It’s not a bad thing not smile, ladies. Reclaim your facial expressions and at the end of the day, just do you.

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Current senior in the School of Communications, chia seed enthusiast, and aspiring television writer.

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