As a middle-aged woman, I’ve ninety percent stopped smiling. It’s not that I’m not happy. I don’t even know why I should have to explain that. I just don’t see the connection between, say, living my life and walking around with a grin painted on my face.
I’ve never really worn makeup. Maybe that’s what a smile is, another decoration for your face. Which makes us Christmas trees?
I went to Paris years ago and the guidebooks said don’t walk around smiling all the time or they’ll know you’re American. It being the age of Freedom Fries I wanted to, one, reflect well on the United States and, two, pretend I wasn’t from there.
I remember how weird it felt not to smile. Like my muscles were going backwards. My face kept making the motions and I’d have to stop myself. At ease, face. Do something else. Like see Paris, Bombay, Antarctica. The moon. Even though I stopped smiling in order to conform to yet another culture, it became an open door.
In Seattle I walked with my best friend a couple weeks after she’d experienced something horrifically painful. I couldn’t even believe she’d left the house. As we made our way through the crowd a young man barked “Smile!” My friend walked on. I looked at this man and I wanted to yell that he had no idea, no idea at all. I still hate myself for doing nothing. Meanwhile, this man has no memory. To him it wasn’t an event, a moment, it wasn’t anything.
What if my friends and I shouted out helpful suggestions to the men around us? Smile! Stand up straight! Try some hair plugs! Loosen your belt and your belly won’t so dramatically cascade over your crotch region! We’d chuckle and then pound some more mini Snickers.
For my trouble, I’ll expect a smile back. Recognition, from you, that I’m charming. Acknowledgement, from you, that I’m witty. I will need reassurance, from you, whatever it takes you to provide it, that I am allowed to lob my thoughts at you, and that you will have to drop all your parcels and grocery sacks to catch them.
Or you’re a bitch.
You know who doesn’t smile? Babies. You smile at them for months and they don’t smile back. They don’t have resting bitch face. They have resting genuine true self human being face. The face created by their Creator.
I don’t think bitchy is a look. Bitchy is merely the absence of what you were expecting from my face. Your expectations are not my concern.
Though even in my 30s, I thought I had to answer to those expectations. I couldn’t let you down. I thought I had to respond to every inane comment that came my way. Do you know you have the complete option to look blankly at people who make inane comments? About you, your children, your choices. You can let them hang. Sure it’s awkward. But they can stew in it. You don’t have to think up a way to make them feel less awkward. You don’t have to toss them a lifeline. You don’t have to save anyone or fix anything. Walk on.
There is a school of thought about Christian kindness. I am not able to address this.
I’ve stopping using exclamation points in emails to try to seem more fun and less serious. Serious leads to cold. Cold leads to bitchy. I think this is where people can stop liking you, also a deadly fear for a woman. I’m stepping off the ledge. I will sit at home alone with no friends, not smiling at myself in the mirror.
I guess I’m taking the chance. It’s starting to feel worse not to.
I looked up bitch in the online Oxford Dictionary. I wondered if they’d actually list the word but of course they do.
Bitchy as an adjective had one meaning. Malicious or spitefully critical. Malicious means the desire to harm someone. Which is weird because the crime stats show the ones harming others tend to be the dudes. What’s the word for how a man’s face looks before he harms someone? Does the witness say, yeah I knew he was going to kill his neighbor, he had a total bitch face.
What’s the antonym of bitchy? There is none listed.
There are synonyms for bitch: vixen, she-devil, and hellcat. I was surprised when I read the synonyms because my first reaction was that those words didn’t seem negative. Maybe I’m way off but she-devil and hellcat I can almost picture on sports jerseys.
The second meaning of bitch is “a spiteful or unpleasant woman”. This is the second reference to spite. What’s all this fear of being spited? This meaning is marked informal so that you know only to call a woman a bitch in casual settings like a barbecue.
Here’s where I truly was surprised. And lost some wind in my sails. Under meaning 2 point A– marked as offensive so you know you’re about to be offended– bitch means “a woman”.
A woman. Just, a woman. Any woman. All women. Cheerful or spiteful. This takes all the impetus out of the smiling then doesn’t it? Because I lose either way. So does your mother. And your grandmother. Your favorite auntie who sent you tins of oatmeal cookies in college. Your kids’ 3rd grade teacher. The principal with the little duckie collection. The doctor who delivered your babies. The surgeon who knit your heart back together, scowling over your gaping wound. Your senator.
It’s not easy to stop smiling.