How Best to Be Pleasingly Decorative to Complete Strangers: Facial Expression Edition

It has come to my attention that “resting bitch face” or “bitchy resting face” is an expression and that it describes an undesirable thing.  I think, as usual, I’m behind the times on this, but I heard it for the first time only recently.  I react to it about the same way I react to the eternally infuriating directive “smile.” I think because the idea behind both being told to smile and being criticized for a bitch face is the same, that is, it is one’s responsibility to have a pleasing facial expression at all times.  With the implication that the opinions of people that may not even know about the pleasingness of one’s facial expressions are more important than the right to exist in public without being criticized based on appearance.

Expectations of pleasing facial expressions are, in my experience, mostly directed toward women, but I have been assure by men who criticize women’s facial expressions that they (the critical men) also criticize men they know just as much and for the same things.  I’ve never heard men ordered to smile or heard “resting bitch face” used to describe a man, but there are lots of things I haven’t heard that I’m sure exist.  Ultraviolet light, for example.

Of course, things aren’t exactly either hunky or dory for the woman (or, presumably, man) who smiles a great deal either.  Me, I have been told that my problems with receiving inappropriate attention and comments from men while in public stem from how cheerful and smiling I normally am.  I sincerely hope this has not ever really happened, but dear Robert Browning has written a poem (“My Last Duchess”) about a man who murders a woman for smiling too much.  So clearly, to both be safe and make people happy, I should at all times both smile and not smile.  This may seem impossible, but the important thing is that I cannot easily exist as a woman in public so long as I insist on having a face with an expression.

I do have a vaguely constructive suggestion for those who like to criticize people for having bitchy faces while at rest or who like to command people to smile.  It would be far more effective and less obnoxiously arrogant to work to create an environment in which people are happy.  A good start would be to create an environment in which people can exist in peace without having strangers police their facial expressions.

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Elizabeth is a professional belly dancer, a flaky computer scientist, and a returned Peace Corps volunteer. She lives in Georgia (the state of the U.S., not the country) but is nonetheless somehow not a combination of stereotypes from Gone with the Wind and Deliverance. Her personal blog is Coffeefied. Operafied. Fluffified. Beglittered.


  1. October 13, 2014 at 1:39 pm —

    I could be wrong, but I never got the impression “resting bitch face” was thought of as negative. Maybe I just hadn’t heard of it until it was reclaimed by feminists.

  2. October 14, 2014 at 8:19 am —

    I’ve only heard it maybe three times, none of which were anything but negative, but three is hardly a representative sample.

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