“Why don’t you smile?” ,“Ain’t nothing that bad, smile pretty”, “Smile, it hasn’t happened yet”
Statements flung at me by strangers on a regular basis. Unsolicited commentary owing to the fact that my face more than likely looks like this….
Thank you man (because it’s never a woman) for volunteering advice that I didn’t request.
When I was a young-ish professional I took loads of training and tests to polish my axe and deliver the perfect Reds to my manager and colleagues. One of those tests was one that encouraged me to look in the mirror (something I hate doing!) and practice facial expressions to determine what my default expression was. Basically, this exercise helped me conclude what I already knew – I have a flat, sometimes menacing expression. This is not intentional as I don’t want to run off potential suitors 👀. However, I haven’t adjusted my default expression. 1. Because I am not quite sure how to and 2. Because I think it is really strange to walk around smiling like some Stepford Wife 👰🏽.
Commenting on someone’s lack of smile is worrying for so many reasons. This seems to be something that men almost exclusively say to women. Why don’t you ask some big, burly man why he’s not smiling bro? Probably because he will pummel you. As I stated previously, it’s not really realistic to expect someone to smile for hours at a time. But then I started thinking more deeply about what is generally joked about. How do you know that my father didn’t just die? What if I am battling a chronic illness and having a really painful time? What if I am contemplating jumping off a bridge on my lunch break? What if I was just diagnosed with cancer? What if I was just fired from my job and don’t know how I am going to support my family? What if I am a person who has anger issues and is fighting just to remain composed? WHAT IF you just minded your own damn business?
Your thoughtless comment isn’t just that, is it? It’s often time the preamble for something more sinister whether expressed or internalised such as “I’m intimidated by you that as a woman you can walk around not trying impress me or my gender peers with a smile.” or “I really want to date you.” Or replace date with an expletive for sex.
So next time before uttering “Why don’t you smile?”, I want you to consider a few things:
- Would I say this to some Rugby Full Back who’s just had a few pints?
- Am I about to insult or intimidate the intended recipient of this question?
- Is this contributing positively to anything?
I like a compliment as much as the next short, black English woman with Bajan and African ancestry but I don’t like being serially offended for something that has nothing to do with anyone else, my face.
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