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By: Mary Hoofnagle
Amidst poolside summer reading and day trip adventures it seems a new, “real phenomenon” plaguing women has been discovered: Bitchy Resting Face. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about check out the video below. Taylor Orci made this video for a series of PSA announcements about disorders that don’t really exist. As a result BRF became a phenomenon and has led to plastic surgeons offering cures for the problem. (Gotta love some situational irony, right?) My apologies for arriving so late to the party, but there are some things we can learn from this new, treacherous malady affecting millions of women worldwide.
BRF is not real.
BRF, or as I like to call it, my face, is not a phenomenon. And it certainly doesn’t need to be cured. After the BRF video went viral, The Today Show interviewed plastic surgeon, Dr. Anthony Youn, defined BRF as a “real phenomenon” and explained how it occurs. Um…and then explained how it can be easily corrected with a grin lift from your nearest plastic surgeon. Because apparently looking like The Joker when you are at ease or thinking about something is more desirable than your actual, and might I say beautiful, face??? I really think this speaks for itself, but if it doesn’t, writer Madeline Davies at Jezebel says it pretty well too:
“To be fair, I don’t think the doctor actually knows what the word ‘real’ means. Bitchy Resting Face is not a real phenomenon, but here, I’ll use the word correctly in a sentence: ‘I can’t believe you’re saying this shit and have a real medical degree.'”
It’s OK to have emotions other than happiness, so be true to your emotions.
As women we are taught by our culture to believe we always have to be pleasing and, yes, happy. Cristen Conger points out in this video commentary that women report a disproportionately higher rate of smiling in public than men, but in private the discrepancy in smiling frequency disappears. And she goes on to point out how women have higher rates of anxiety and depression. This is not merely a coincidence. Imagine how difficult it is to be having a bad day and feeling as though you are not allowed to show it. Presenting a false front to the world all the time is exhausting and causes a great deal of anxiety. The article Tyranny of the Smile highlights one study on the issue:
LaFrance discusses the psychological dissonance female flight attendants experience after hours of forced gaiety. They report feeling estranged from their emotions (the industry parlance for this state of numbness is “going robot”), falling into depression, losing sight of their true selves.
Here’s the deal. Women are humans. We do human things like feel sad, angry, frustrated, calm, peaceful, etc. Smiling isn’t the facial expression that goes along with those emotional experiences. Sometimes women do human things like thinking as well. I know that’s shocking. I know sometimes it seems as though society doesn’t want women to think. Looking at the face of a person who’s deep in thought and telling her, “You’re so pretty. You should be smiling,” communicates that mindless smiling is more beautiful than thinking. And for the record, that exact thing has happened to me on many occasions.
Women are not bitches.
Not only is it OK for women to experience this range of emotional experience, it definitely does not make us bitches. In fact, are we really still referring to women as bitches? This term is diminishing and takes power away from women in a whole host of ways. If a women is aggressive and goes for what she wants in the world of business or relationships or social interactions she’s either desperate or a bitch. A man? He’s bold. He’s a go-getter. He’s ambitious. He’s a hero. Does anyone else see the problem there?
You don’t need to comment on a women’s “BRF”. Ever.
Really. I mean it. Commenting on a woman’s face in a way that requires her to adopt an expression more favorable to you is also diminishing. It diminishes how they look and what they might be experiencing. Instead I challenge you to change the way you think about a woman when you see her face. Wonder what she’s thinking. It could be about something sad or frustrating or her grocery list. If you absolutely must comment, try reflecting feeling and saying, “You really seem to be deep in thought right now.” Or, if you can tell she’s definitely sad, “You are really sad about something today.” And maybe even follow it up with some empathy, “If there’s anything I can do to help, let me know.”
We never need to feel like there is something wrong with how we look.
I spent this week talking to middle school girls about body image. We watched the Dove Evolution video and talked about how women see these impossible representations of how they should look and spend the majority of their time feeling like less because they can’t measure up. Telling a woman to smile when you see her resting face, or angry face, or peaceful face, or thinking face does the same thing. We are all beautiful! We deserve to feel beautiful and be proud of how we look and especially be proud of what we are experiencing on the inside. Don’t let anyone tell you how to look, how to feel, or how to look like you feel.