The other morning, I was walking the three blocks from where I park in downtown Dallas to my office when a man walking toward me on the sidewalk shouted,”Try a smile,” at me. I hadn’t even noticed him until he commanded this facial expression from me, and after a quick glance to find I was the only person in his vicinity, in automatic response, I gave him a tight-lipped grin that couldn’t have looked at all like a happy smile.
“There you go,” he told me encouragingly, returning a wide beam, and I walked on past him without a word, mad at myself for acknowledging this stranger’s bossiness with even a half-smile. Why is it that I need to be smiling as I walk my daily five-minute stroll to the office building? Why would anyone feel the need to tell me to do so as I mind my own business during my usual route to work?
The sage 14-year-old actress Rowan Blanchard is just as aggravated with strangers telling her to smile more, except instead of approaching her on the street, they’re commenting en masse on her Instagram page. “If I want to smile I will,” she Tweeted on Nov. 29. “Nothing more than that.”
But there is more than that. People inherently think women are sad or upset or, as Blanchard explained in another Tweet, depressed if they aren’t smiling in every picture or as they walk in public, which is plain ignorant and frankly stupid. People assuming automatically that non-smiling women are depressed is a serious thing, because depression is serious and should not be tossed around just because someone’s face doesn’t look like what society defines as joy.
Not smiling can mean someone is being thoughtful, creative, meditational, pensive, inspired, artful, tired, or a million other things that aren’t feelings of depression or being upset, whereas people who do decide to be open about depression are oftentimes told they’re being overreactive (another point made by Blanchard). Smiling, or not smiling, is an individual choice, just like any other action and reaction — so why do some people insist on demanding it so casually and so often, specifically from women?
Historically, women have been made to be creatures who please others, and while a facial expression seems like not a big deal in relation to other gender issues, it is. Human emotion is a right to be expressed individually whenever a person feels like expressing it — it is not something to be dictated by another person who would feel a little better if I slapped on a happier face because he asked me to do so. So, please, don’t tell me to smile. I will when I feel like it. And if I look depressed or have “resting bitch face,” I don’t really care if that hurts your feelings.
Poncho: Old Navy (Sold out: similar here and here) // Jeans: Target // Booties: Dolce by Mojo Moxy via Francesca’s // Sunglasses: Target // Necklace: Tribe Alive (Old, but all their jewelry is stunning and hand-crafted, and supports an amazing cause.) // Lipstick: L’Oreal “Divine Wine”