One of the first things I read this morning was a well-meaning article on the benefits of smiling. I’m sure there are many benefits and as my therapist tells me, “it is important to focus on the positive.” So why, when I read it, did I have to quell an overwhelming urge to throw my phone through the window? I’ll tell you why.
It’s Monday. Morning. It’s raining. And just, NO.
If you’re a woman on Earth, I’m sure you’ve been told at some point to “smile,” or that “you’d look prettier if you smiled,” or some similarly obnoxious statement. Not necessarily just by men either. It seems some people just don’t like to see you frown and they’re seriously concerned…about how your face looks and how it affects them. Isn’t that sweet?
I could be clinically depressed, have just lost a loved one, or read the news. Maybe all three. You don’t know what’s going on in someone else’s head.
You have no idea why someone else is frowning or just not inclined to smile at the moment. They could have a mood or behavioral disorder. In which case, walking up to them and telling them to “smile!” is about as productive as walking up to a person in a wheelchair and saying, “just stand up and walk, it’s so easy and good for you.”
People have said things like that to me during depressive episodes and I felt so much worse afterwards. I felt like my inability to feel happy was inconvenient for others. I wanted to smile. I wanted to be in a good mood. I wanted to have the energy to make an effort. But sometimes, I just didn’t.
I already felt bad about this. I already wondered what was wrong with me, why I couldn’t be “normal” or “happy” like other people. I mean really, why wasn’t it easy to do basic things like laugh at a joke or just enjoy something, anything at all? Because of neurotransmitters, chemicals, and hormones I don’t control. Having someone tell me to stop being a “Debbie-downer” or to “smile more,” not only invalidated my feelings, it invalidated a very real, widespread, and legitimate illness.
But even if I didn’t have a mental illness, I’m still a human being with my own individual thoughts and feelings apart from yours. Living in this world is not always easy or happy. Sometimes we get sick, we die, our loved ones yell and hurt our feelings, we get laid off, and on and on. There are so many reasons to feel emotions besides happiness. We all have a right to those feelings and to their expression. So just as you can tell me to “smile,” I can tell you to buzz off.” And just because you can do something, doesn’t make it a good idea. It’s too bad if my feelings are difficult for you or affect your mood. But that is your issue. Don’t make it mine.
It may seem something small and simple. But my body is my business. You don’t dictate what I get to do with it. Any of it.
This is a basic boundary issue. If I’m not hurting anyone, then it’s nobody’s business what I do with my face or my body. It’s also none of my business what you think of my face or my mouth or anything at all. Your blunt command for me to “smile” crosses the line.
You get your body and your mind to do and think as you please. So do I. I don’t care if I’ll “look prettier” if I smile. I am so much more than a face or a pleasing expression to be admired by doting passersby like I’m a piece of furniture.
Telling a stranger to do anything with their body is weird and creepy. It places that human being on level with a dog that you believe you have the right to command. “Sit!” “Stay.” “Smile!” “Good girl!!!” No. Just don’t. You are not my master and I will not obey. We’re not pets to command or dolls to arrange at your pleasure.
Now that I’ve covered the basics of why it is disrespectful to tell someone to “smile.” I’d like to point out that the results you’re looking for, that pretty, shiny, happy face doesn’t appear on command. When you force someone to express a feeling they don’t actually feel, the expression will be just as fake. A genuine smile doesn’t just appear on command. This does:
An expression of thinly veiled annoyance with a barely detectable upturn of the mouth. If we do smile at your command, we’re labeled “stiff” and “unnatural.” If we don’t, we have “resting bitch face.” So tell me again, why we should smile?