Let me take you way back to yesterday afternoon, when after a punishing Pilates class, I decided to treat myself to something delicious and sugary (the calories don’t count if you stuff yourself right after working out, right?). So I headed over to the Wafels and Dinges truck, an amazing mobile Belgian waffle vendor that usually parks itself near my school on Mondays.
Maybe my eyes were watering from the 32-degree weather, or maybe I was looking anxious because of all the stuff I had to get done later that day. For whatever reason, though, when I stepped up to get my waffle, the dude working the truck took a look at my face and started clicking his tongue disapprovingly. “Tell me what’s wrong,” he said. “Why don’t you smile?”
I was taken aback. Why was this guy assuming that there was something wrong with me just because the sides of my mouth didn’t happen to be turned up? And even if I had been upset, what made him think he had the right to pry into the personal life of a total stranger? I stuttered something vague and grabbed my food, happy to get the hell away from that truck. And, okay, still psyched to eat an awesome waffle.
Let me make one thing clear: I am not a gloomy person by nature. I crack jokes all the time, even when doing so might not be entirely appropriate. My laugh is so loud and distinctive—kind of like another notable Hillary’s famous guffaw—that my friends have dubbed it “the cackle.” Even so, I guess that everyone must think I have a natural bitchface or something, because random people are always suggesting to me that I should smile. More often, though, it’s just a command: “Smile!” There’s an implied “or else” at the end of that imperative.
When I was indignantly recounting the waffle incident for my roommate later that evening, she made a good point: “That’s kind of sexist! Nobody ever does that to dudes.” Her statement is totally valid. There’s no way that a guy walking down the street with a neutral expression on his face would be harassed by “concerned” passersby about turning that frown upside down.
I’d argue that the smile demand is as bad a piece of advice for women as telling them to introduce frozen grapes into their sexual repertoire. It implies that ladies should always be happy—or, even if they aren’t happy, they should project the outward appearance of being happy in order to put other people at ease.
If a man isn’t smiling, it’s no big deal. But if a woman isn’t smiling, she must either be a bitch or be undergoing some kind of profound emotional trauma. Being a bitch is no good because it makes you unfeminine, while revealing that you’re upset is also a no-no because it makes everybody else feel uncomfortable—and that goes against the old stereotype that women should always put others before themselves.
Well, screw that. If the way my face looks naturally is somehow offensive to you, you’re just going to have to deal with it. And that goes for all women; in what rulebook does it decree that girls have to sport a simpering grin at all times? Smile when you feel like it, but don’t go around beaming just because you feel some weird obligation to. Plus, frankly, I think that people who smile all the time are creepier than people who don’t.
The next time the waffle guy—or anyone else—commands me to smile, I think I’m just going to respond by saying, “No.” Then, after I turn around, maybe I’ll let my lips curl into a smirk. If I do, though, it’ll be because I felt like smiling—not because I’m trying to please anybody else.
**Note: the waffle did make me smile.