“Hey, Charlotte! Are you okay?” My kickboxing instructor yanked me out of a my cardio stupor in the middle of class last Friday.
“Wha…? Yeah. I mean, of course,” I stammered as everyone else turned to stare at me (through the mirror so it was like getting doubly stared at).
“You just look so sad! Or angry!” she continued, into the mic. “Are you sure everything’s alright?”
Why was she asking if I was okay? I checked my bra straps (showing, of course, it’s a sports bra), my panty line (again, showing, because Lycra is horribly unforgiving) and my crotch just in case I’d split a seam and was flaunting my bits (thankfully NOT showing) – but everything was fine, which is to say I looked exactly as I always look.
And that, my friends, is the problem. I have a serious case of b*tch face.
Ever since I was a child I’ve had a permanently grouchy expression on my face. Generous people call me “serious” or “thoughtful” but most people either think I look angry, sad, scared or, heaven help me, snobby. And while I did have one friend who saw this as a plus – “I knew we were going to be besties because the first time I saw you in church you didn’t smile once during the entire 3-hour service! Smiley people make me nervous!” (Side note: Mormons have long services, ’tis true, but two of those hours are free childcare so I’m not complaining!) – most people find it off-putting. But the truth is that regardless of what I’m actually feeling my neutral face is, well, kinda Oscar in his trashcan.
There are two major problems with this, aside from the fact that everyone’s always asking me if I’m okay:
1. I do wear my emotions on my sleeve. I’m terrible at hiding negative feelings and so when I am stressed or unhappy or angry everyone knows it whether I want them to or not. But I’m not as good at demonstrating when I’m happy or grateful or joyful. Why is this??
2. Smiling can make you happier and conversely frowning can make you sad. We often think of how it works the opposite way – I’m happy therefore I’m smiling – but research has shown that your facial expressions can influence your feelings. (Try the pencil test if you don’t believe me!)
I like being happy! So, how do I fix this? First I did what any socially awkward computer-addicted nerd would do: I googled “genuine smile” and practiced copying it in the mirror. No seriously, I did. In case you didn’t know either a genuine smile is one that makes your eyes crinkle and your cheeks lift. Fake smiles only move your mouth. Turns out I fake smile a lot. Oops. Then I talked to some of my friends who manage to look happy even if they’re not smiling. That was a little harder to copy as they seem to have a general lightness of being that I simply don’t possess. Can this be learned or is it just my personality? I’m honestly not sure. After that I got caught up reading links about all the side effects of the Mirena IUD (which I have for birth control) and wondering if it is partially responsible for my increased crazy as of late which is another post entirely and one I’ll probably write once I figure out what’s going on and therefore got completely distracted from my original mission.
Now I’m left with this: Every time I think about it, I smile. A genuine eye-crinkly smile. And to make sure it’s legit I make sure I’m thinking about something that makes me happy. My kids are frequent inspirations (when they’re not sitting on each other and farting – their new fave game) as is remembering when my husband and I first met. Saturday Night Live and XKCD often make frequent appearances. Although I glanced at my reflection a few minutes ago and it turns out my genuine smile might just look genuinely nuts.
Is it working? Not yet. Someone just asked me earlier today if I was okay. Sigh. (Sidenote: I haaaate it when people command me to “Smile!”, especially strangers. Doing this will not only not get me to smile but you will have to dodge all the eye-daggers I shoot your way. Don’t tell me how to feel.)
What’s your natural expression like? Anyone else have a permanently serious pout too? Is this something I should try and change or should I just embrace it? Sometimes I feel like I need a shirt that says “I swear I’m not silently judging you!” (Unless you pick your wedgies from the front. In public. And then, yes, I am judging you a little.)
*Because if that worked, I’d be golden. And world peace could be achieved by flying side crow.