Sunday, December 30, 2012

I'm Not Sad, I'm Just Drawn That Way

If you really want to make me frown, command me to "smile!" All my life, ever since I was a small child with nothing much on her mind and certainly no weight of the world, I've been told (mostly by strangers, mostly by men) to "Smile!" Even when I am — sort of — smiling. At least, on the inside. I cannot help the fact that my features, in repose, seem pensive. It's the way my mouth is shaped, and how my eyes are.

After years and years of this command — "Smile!" — I find it more and more vexing. For one thing, why do complete strangers walking by feel as though they have the right to tell me what my expression would be? What's so great about smiling, anyway? It's just one of many expressions, maybe not even the best one. Sulks and pouts have been the model's moneymaker for decades. Plus… don't you think, when you see someone walking down the street, all by themselves and smiling, "I wonder what laughing academy that one's escaped from?"

Don't get me wrong. I've got nothing against smiling. I do it a lot (yes, even when I am alone). I have much to smile for, for sure. But when I was a young child, I had crooked teeth and when my mom had to pay for those Sears portraits or whatever, she'd say, "Don't show your teeth." Then I wore braces and they were hideous metal grills that reflected the sun brighter than Versailles at midday, so I resisted smiling out of deference to the eyesight of others. After my teeth were straight, I still didn't like my smile, because it wasn't the classic one with upturned corners… even when I am smiling, people can't always tell.

Sometimes I remind myself of that classic episode of "Cheers" when Lilith gets a modeling job and the photographer is snapping her photo and calling out expressions for her, but each one is exactly the same. Or this (not smiling is cool, right?)

What's more, not all smiles are genuine. Wouldn't you rather see a person smiling because they really mean it, and it's not just plastered on as a socially acceptable mask? I've noticed that most of the people commanding me to "Smile!" aren't even smiling themselves.

If you are one of those people who feels compelled to shout "Smile!" at others, think twice. Maybe the non-smiler just doesn't have an upturned mouth. Maybe the non-smiler has crooked teeth. Or, maybe, just maybe, that person is feeling neutral.

There is nothing wrong with not smiling.

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