You should smile more, they say. You look upset, mean even angry. In fact, there is a definitive term for it: the resting bitch face, and it is duly reserved for women who come across as aloof or put-offs. You don’t want to be called that now, do you? So you should smile more!
It’s a little (read: very) unnerving to be constantly surrounded by images of femininity that are plainly one-dimensional, with only one expectation: to please, to appease and to be easy on the eye. The billboards are filled with supportive wives, caring mothers, attractive girlfriends, smiling to win your attention. The message is loud and clear, insidiously encoded within the social framework of a deeply sexist society: women need to be conscious of how to present oneself under the public gaze. When you’re en route school or doing grocery shopping; you should smile more. When you’re in an auto, the metro, the bus; you should smile more. Whether you’re in class, at work, or at home; you should smile more. Anything less than a smile is subservient.
Women have been forbidden to process the immense psychological burden they carry within themselves while struggling to write their own narratives in a patriarchal setting since time immemorial. It seems no less than a dream descending into reality to witness a woman not smiling. Imagine billboards of blank stares or Siri or Alexa having a rough day. To be frank, is to be hated. To be showing displeasure, scorn, uncertainty or anything that doesn’t fit within the compassionate, nurturing or care-giving model prescribed for all women is jarring and discomfiting.
The idea that women don’t exist to be likeable is still a fairly new and radical one. With new media increasingly giving space to unapologetic and flawed characters—from Diane Nguyen in ‘Bojack’ to Camille from ‘Sharp Objects’ and the anti-heroines of ‘Killing Eve’; visual media is changing popular and conventional perceptions associated with the female gender, and implicitly, the role women are intended to play in the society. Closer home, the recent success of Amazon Prime’s ‘Made in Heaven’ featuring a morally grey female lead has been unprecedented, and symbolic of urban acceptance of flawed and independent women characters. But this is just the beginning, we need to put in combined efforts to remove these embedded societal obligations that demand women to put on a specific appearance in order to be accepted.
I want more deadpan expressions. Let a woman look at you, and simply look, not cower to fit your expectations. Let women be wracked by unpleasant emotions and in turn be visibly flawed and human. It is exhausting to keep smiling, let it show on our face; let yourself be. We are not mannequins or dolls, do not expect us to have smiles painted on for you.