Opinion | ‘You would be so pretty if you smiled more’

smile more
Kali Hoffman
Photo Editor

About a week ago I found out about the newest plastic surgery trend: anti-“resting bitch face” (RBF) botox. The procedure, which costs somewhere between $500 to $5,000 depending on the severity of facial bitchiness, is meant to give women’s features a “pleasant resting look” for up to two years. As a longtime owner of RBF, my first thought was “I need that!”

I’ve heard it all over the years, from people saying, “You would be so pretty if you smiled more,” and “I thought you were mean until I got to know you” to almost getting fired because my boss thought I didn’t look chipper enough while dusting coffee mugs. I’m generally a happy person and I thought I looked nice enough whenever I saw myself in the mirror or in photos, but all the contrary feedback made me think my self-perception was seriously off. I worry all the time that maybe I just am kind of a “bitch” – whatever that means – and that’s why I look like one. But then I realized that my face isn’t the problem; the real problem is that women and girls are expected to be, or at least look, approachable at all times.

It’s safe to say most women can pinpoint a time in their life when it seemed like everyone suddenly had something to say about their appearance. I was about 10 when people started to give me mini-lectures on how I could be prettier and nicer. I realized then that how people perceive me is mostly out of my control and I hated it. I tried to change and lighten up – which worked, but as a result, I felt like any show of negative emotion made me ten times uglier. When that became too exhausting, I went in the opposite direction. People thought I looked too unapproachable, so I became even more unapproachable. It became my armor against criticism. I didn’t want compliments; I didn’t want to hear anything at all about how I looked. Thus, my RBF was born.

Now, I like to think I’ve found a balance. I didn’t ever need to fix anything about my face, I just needed to get over the need to have everyone like me. I still get told to “cheer up, sweetheart” all the time, even when I’m perfectly happy (I’m looking at you, groups of middle-aged businessmen in restaurants), but I’ve thankfully stopped constantly policing myself. I let myself look how I look, RBF and all, and whatever people think about that is their problem. But my heart goes out to other people – young women especially –who have ever felt like they have to change their look in order to make others feel comfortable.

The fact is, women will get criticized for smiling and not smiling, for being too outgoing or too introverted, for being too attractive and not attractive enough. Nobody should feel like they have to get a perma-smile surgically plastered on their face, period. In the end, there is no way to avoid criticism, so it’s not worth worrying about. And it’s definitely not worth $5,000 of Botox injections.