To All the People Who Say I'm Prettier When I Smile

Lindsay McCance is an English-Creative Writing major with a minor in Humanities and Cultural Studies here at UCF.  A lot of her writing centers around women’s studies, so it was no wonder when she made a post (pictured below) on her Instagram (@linnyloohoo), bringing to light the societal standards for the physical appearances of women. A strong woman herself, and a passionate women’s rights vocalist, Lindsay shared with us a few thoughts behind the post.

1. Tell me about your Instagram post.

I have had many people come up to me throughout my life (some total strangers) and ask me “Why don’t you smile more?” or  “Come on, you’d be prettier if you smiled.” My instagram post features a picture (specifically, a selfie) of me staring into the camera with what I consider my “everyday expression.” Though, I know society tends to view the straightforward look in my eyes and my flat-lined mouth as rather challenging and, to use the common term, my “resting bitch face.” I posted this picture to bring attention to societal expectations of girls/women. More specifically, how women are pressured to adhere to beauty standards, to be agreeable, to put people at ease, to smile to look pretty, etc.

2. What triggered you to make a post like that?

Honestly, I was looking at myself in the camera and, unfortunately, critiquing myself. I eventually found myself smiling to look “prettier.” This thought and action took me down a spiral of deep thoughts. I did not feel like smiling.  I had no cause to smile in that exact moment, it wasn’t that I was experiencing any negative emotions, I was just simply deep into the myriad of thoughts inside of my mind. So I asked myself: Why do individuals feel that it’s in their rights to come up to me and tell me what expression to display on my face?

3. What are the reasons you think society only accepts happiness as an acceptable emotion for woman?

Society only accepts happiness as an acceptable emotion for women because women who are happy: are pleasing, are agreeable, and they know their place. Recently in my Contemporary Women’s Fiction class, my professor handed out a copy of an article published in 1955. It was titled “The good wife’s guide” from the magazine, Housekeeping Monthly. The article has numerous bullet points on how to be a “good wife,” but one specifically stood out to me because it read “Greet him with a warm smile and show sincerity in your desire to please him.” To paint a picture of stereotypes we are fed from history: the man works, deals with the real harshities of life, while the woman is there to put her man at ease, to counteract his hardships. She doesn’t argue. She meticulously prepares herself for a man’s viewing pleasure (and I don’t mean this in a sexual way), and most importantly, she is pleasant, happy, and smiling. This is the reality of the patriarchy.

Thankfully, these strong gender roles have faded and continue to fade as time goes on, but the fact of the matter is: people still have these ideals instilled in them and they feel the need to express them in a way that can be especially destructive to a young woman’s perception of herself.

4. It is clear you are a strong woman.  Who are some of the strong women you look up to? Why them?

This is an endless list, some of the strong women I look up to have passed while some are alive. To categorize the ones who have passed, but their legacies and impacts are too numerous to count: Susan B. Anthony, Mary Wollstonecraft, Virginia Woolf, Frida Kahlo, Simone de Beauvior, and Maya Angelou. These strong women are all unique and they are all famous for different reasons; but they were all trailblazers who displayed a tenacity for life and a passion for change. These women lived in a society that is not as progressive as the present, and to have produced such legacies is beyond comprehension to me.

More presently, Michelle Obama is a woman I look up to immensely. She is a strong, unyielding woman who will stand up for what she believes in, all while keeping her dignity and class. Politics aside, her eight years as First Lady were incredible. Her position is unique because she was the wife of the President of the United States of America, her role could not be more elevated, while she was saturated in the public eye. Yet even with the world watching her, she kept her class and used her platform to better the world.

5. What is something you think women our age should know?

Women my age (and especially younger girls) need to know that they have the power to decide how to express themselves. There is real beauty in genuineness. Be genuine with your emotions and with your expressions. If you are angry, get angry. If you are sad, sometimes you have to allow yourself to feel sad to appreciate the happier moments. If you are happy, then, by all means, show it. It’s up to you. The point of the matter is, don’t block off emotions because society tells you to, you are a human being who has the power to feel so very deeply and exquisitely. Feeling and expressing your emotions is not always easy, but we were born into this world screaming mad, we were born to feel.  If you genuinely want to walk around smiling then do it, don’t let anyone stop you. But, if you are a tornado of feelings, be a tornado.

 

As she enjoys to write meaningful poetry, Lindsay has an account on Instagram devoted to just that (@wildwordwoman).  Here is a poem she wrote shortly after processing her recent experiences:

ARMY OF STANDARDS

i will tell my daughter

“don’t you dare smile

to please someone else,

don’t you dare smile

a stale optimism. smile when

the corners of your lips

couldn’t be weighed down

by the force of an

army of standards.”

Photos courtesy Lindsay McCance.