You Want Me To Smile, But What’s There To Smile About?

*Note: This is an article that I wrote for Harness Magazine on April 23, 2017 under my maiden name (Emily Austin). To view this article on the original site, click here.

The way my parents describe it, I was a strange little child. So much so that one of my elementary school teachers had told my mother she was concerned about my well-being. I was quiet, kept to myself and everyday I chose to be angry.

When I say, “Chose to be,” I mean in school we had to pick an emotion we were feeling on a chart and I always decided on angry, the only exception being my birthday. I hid my face behind my Molly doll from the Big Comfy Couch and kept my nose in coloring books. My teachers may have been concerned, but my mother wasn’t. She’d say to them, “That’s how she is.”

In middle school, a boy in my class always made it a point to find me in the hallways and tell me to smile. As I stared down at the tiles, shuffling my way to class, he’d rush up behind me and let me know that I needed cheering up. At first, I thought of it as him believing I was sad and needing a pick-me-up. After months of this, I wanted nothing more than to tell him to buzz off. I’m just thinking. However, I was never one for conflict, so I’d shoot him a smile that satisfied him enough to leave me alone for the day.

In high school, it was difficult for me to make friends. Instead of talking to the kids around me, I would quietly do my work then read whatever novel I was preoccupied with at the time. When I did develop friendships, I would soon find out most saw me as a “snob” or “bitch” before ever talking to me.  “Why?” I always asked, considering I never picked fights and often thought of myself as an innocent. “When I see you, you aren’t smiling and you always looked so mean,” was often their response.

Even college failed to be immune to my non-smiling demeanor. Those living in our dorm would ask my best friend what was wrong with me, because they didn’t feel they could approach me themselves. What’s my deal? Why did I have such a serious look on my face? Knowing me better than anyone, she would say, “That’s just her face. That’s who she is.”

Then one day while with a group of friends in a hookah bar, a guy I’d just met turned to me in front of every one and said, “Has anyone ever told you that you have resting bitch face?” Ah, yes. The popular term that was being used to describe someone with my condition. I’d about had it, but to ease his own mind I did what I always do: I smiled and tried to reassure the other person I was okay. Yep, of course, countless people have said my face gives them nightmares and therefore couldn’t sleep without knowing if I was capable of a smile.

If you have RBF, then you know this is the most infuriating thing to have to do. Why should I have to make someone feel comfortable when I’m minding my own business? What makes someone’s neutral expression much more intimidating than another’s? Perhaps I was an angry kid, but I’m not now. When I walk down the street, I don’t see random people passing by with a constant grin. In fact, if I saw someone with a permanent smile plastered to their face, I’d be a little concerned about my safety, because that seems psychotic. Eventually I started to wonder if I really look depressed. Are they seeing something I’m not? What’s there to smile about, anyway?

I developed my own explanation that seems to work when people say, “I passed by you earlier today and you looked angry.” Instead of screaming for the world to hear, “THAT’S JUST MY FACE” I explain to them without smiling about what I like to call my “tunnel vision.” I’m focused on one thing: my own thoughts. I’ve always been a deep thinker so much so that I often subconsciously tune out other people. Those times when I walked to class without looking at my phone or laughing with other people were spent diving into my own thoughts, whether they be about the world or dreaming up my own fiction. When I get consumed in my own little world, I get an intense look on my face. I’m not snobby, or bitchy, or plotting to take over the world. I’m spending time on myself and reflecting.

A part of me wishes I had told that guy at the hookah bar, “Sorry, I was trying to tune out your boring story.” Part of me wishes I hadn’t shown him what I looked like smiling at all.

I do smile. I smile when I get cuddles from my pets and fiancé. I smile when I see my nieces and nephews after a long time and I smile when I think to appreciate the nature around me. I smile during sappy parts in movies and whenever I hear a terrible joke. I smile when my friends’ gossip about the long day they’ve had and I smile when they tell me about their crush. I just don’t smile all the time.

Sometimes, I want to be me without question.