If you’ve ever been told, “I thought you were a bitch when I first met you”, you know the utter monotony of living with’Resting Bitch Face’. And RBF has been proven as an actual validated facial expression– No, the term itself is not justified, but the expression referred to, has been proven to exist.
To get the basic, menial things out of the way, RBF is used to describe (commonly) the state of a woman’s face when she is neutral. There is an automatic assumption that because she is not smiling or does not have a pleasant expression that she is conveying an attitude of superiority, judgement and condescension onto anybody who catches her gaze. Or perhaps, she is simply unhappy or grumpy.
The absence of [warmth or frivolity] must be an abnormality or oversight on her part.
The fact that this association is commonly attached to women is a clear indication of the double standard this expression implies and laments. A woman is meant to always be appealing and pleasing- in company, in appearance. The absence of warmth or frivolity makes a woman decidedly unfeminine. The absence of these feminine qualities must be an abnormality or oversight on her part. When really this woman is just exercising her right to have her face sit naturally in an expression she feels comfortable with.
RBF can be filed along with other commonly agreed misogyny-laced statements; like “Smile, sweety”, and “Cheer up, you look better when you smile”. Yes, they’re seemingly innocuous and well-meaning. But they imply that your appearance and mood is something that needs to be adjusted to suit someone else’s comfort in your presence. They say these things are not up to your discretion.
Why does your mood need to be monitored by a complete stranger? Why does a complete stranger feel the need to tell you how you could look better? These statements are problematic. And that’s not the ‘aggressive feminist’ in me. You don’t need a study to back up that these statements are demeaning, or that they make the receiver feel self-conscious or guilty for being authentic. And that is simply unnecessary to feel.
Women are conditioned to communicate in a certain way, so as to get their point across or to avoid being labelled or misunderstood. As Rene Paulson, Texas Woman’s University researcher and consultant, wrote for Quartz , “[It’s] draining to have to constantly police your own facial expressions. I often find a 2 hour meeting with strangers more exhausting than a 16-hour workday. It takes a lot of mental energy to have to remain constantly vigilant of my facial expression and tone.”
Paulson’s study shows that RBF is an indication of a high Emotional Intelligence (EQ). RBF is actually a good thing to have as it results in you being more aware of how you communicate and are perceived. This means you are more self-aware, able to quickly adapt socially. You are also more socially empathetic due to often being misunderstood yourself, as a result of your own body language, you instead focus more on what someone is saying than their body language.
I’m not going to change my expression, no matter how many times someone tells me I’m intimidating.
Growing up I was subconsciously aware that when I put my point across smiling, and in a pleasing, appeasing way, I was more likely to be heard and found likable. But when I put my point across in a straightforward, and especially ‘aggressive’ (i.e honest) way, I was not only perceived as less likable, what I said was likely to be dismissed. This brought on a pressure to pretend my mood was constantly pleasant. When I endeavored to be honest and authentic in my interactions, I heard a repetitive “you are intimidating”, “you look unfriendly”, “you seem like a bitch”. And at first I felt misunderstood, and then I asked myself why people feel it’s okay to make these judgement based on an expression that was a result of being free from the pressure of having to constantly mold my delivery or mood.
The older I got, the less this sentence or perception bothered me. Before a study confirmed what I already knew (that RBF is simply a fact of life, that at some point, all women will have a RBF – because they are human), before others labelled it a socially constructed idea based on misogynistic expectations, I already knew that I wasn’t going to change my expression, no matter how many times someone told me I was intimidating.
So no, darling, I will not smile for you.