"I had a resting bitch face"


“I had a resting bitch face”

Fed up with being told to smile all the time, this dagger-eyed writer decided to make amends

By Julie Schott  September 14th, 2015

“I’m sorry, am I boring you? Shall I finish?” said make-up pro Lucia Pieroni, focusing her gaze on me from the centre of a backstage reporter huddle. It was New York Fashion Week, and hair and make-up artists were tired of “the look”. Everyone could have used another coffee or a holiday. But not me: I’d waited a lifetime (or at least some very angsty teen years) for a backstage pass. Far from disinterested, I was giddy with rookie excitement — although you wouldn’t have known it from my lifeless expression. “I’m not bored! Not at all!” I stammered. But it was too late. Pieroni had already decided I was a dud. 

My sour expression has been getting me into trouble since an early age. In high school, my principal complained I didn’t register appropriate dismay when he called me into his office because my skirt was too short. My ninth-grade English teacher said I seemed disengaged in class. He took my listening face for a total lack of interest when, in fact, English was one of the only subjects I liked.

When comedian Taylor Orci’s ‘Bitchy Resting Face’ video went viral in 2013, my inbox filled — predictably — with emails subject-lined: “This is you!” Orci’s PSA parody asks: “Do you know someone with a bitchy face?” As the symptoms play out, one sufferer upsets her boyfriend with a single glance. Another offends a sales assistant with an expressionless “Thank you”. Another inadvertently declines a marriage proposal.

And it’s true: even when minding my own business, thinking pleasant thoughts — nice view, cute dog, cute boy, good coffee — my eyes do not crease. The corners of my mouth do not turn up. Instead of broadcasting positive feelings, I remain poker-faced. Like ice queen Victoria Beckham and her disciples Kristen Stewart and Rooney Mara, I may as well have a ‘Do not disturb’ sign hanging from my neck.

 

According to Dr Eric Finzi, author of The Face Of Emotion, some people are simply born with faces that are less expressive than others. A study published in Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences found that those who are congenitally blind often demonstrate similar expressions to their sighted relatives, which means that facial movements are somewhat hereditary. But according to Finzi, that doesn’t mean I can’t deliberately change my resting facial expression. “You can make a conscious decision to smile more,” he says.

Still, I’m conflicted about the idea of altering my natural expression to appear more inviting. I’ve always thought a rude face that masks a positive attitude has its own unique allure. Hollywood casting director Billy Hopkins, who scouted a teenage Kristen Stewart for the movie Speak, agrees. “If someone has a pouty look or a downturned mouth, then they should use that, but be nice. That juxtaposition can be sort of sexy.” And in public settings, a serious face has its advantages: cab drivers rarely strike up a conversation, strangers aren’t interested in small talk. Plus, with the build of someone who will always ride in the middle seat of a crowded car, I have to overcompensate to communicate authority. A new doctor, upon learning I’m a writer, recently asked how I landed a “big-girl job”. He had come recommended by a colleague, so I went out of my way to be friendly, but had my bitch guard been turned up all the way, he might have thought it — but wouldn’t have said it.

So where does bitch face create a roadblock that makes me want to change? In the world of dating, where availability and interest — easily communicated with a flirtatious grin — trump aloofness every time. “People make social judgments about others generally within 100 milliseconds of viewing a face,” says Megan Willis, co-author of the study Judging Approachability On The Face Of It, published by the American Psychological Association. And according to findings from the University of York in the UK, openness is most often associated with the expression of the mouth — unsurprisingly, a smile ranks as more inviting than a frown or neutral mouth. Lips play a specific role in approachability as well. “The small parting of the lip, the relaxation of the muscles, that alone conveys warmth,” says Joe Navarro, a former FBI agent and the author of body-language book What Every Body Is Saying. “That’s why when you’re dating and you’re sitting across from someone, you see the relaxed muscles, the lips are going to be fuller.”

 

I practise the smile on a date with someone I’ve just started seeing. We’re sitting outside a bar, side by side. He’s smoking a cigarette; I’m not. He’s telling a story, and I’m listening, all the while trying to look inviting, engaged and, of course, approachable. I relax my mouth and let the corners turn up. “Julie’s drunk,” he says playfully. (In fact, I’ve barely touched my drink.) “I’m wasted,” I agree sarcastically, laughing it off.

According to Navarro, another option, even if I don’t crack a smile, is to start tilting my head slightly. “At just four weeks old, babies will smile when their mother tilts her head at them,” he says. “We see it in courtship behaviour. When both people have their heads slightly popped to the side, this translates to: ‘I’m so comfortable with you, I’m exposing you to the weakest part of my body.’” This strikes me as a ditzy affectation, but it’s easy enough to incorporate into daily interactions. I order juice with my head to one side, and I’m met with a pleasant “How’s your morning going so far?” from the server. My morning isn’t bad at all, and I tell him so. “Try this,” he says, sliding me a free juice shot. “Pretty good, right?”

Next up, we focus on eye contact. When it comes to creating an appealing gaze, Navarro says the most inviting eyes are fully open and relaxed, rather than squinting — the Clint Eastwood effect — which can be perceived as negative. “When you see a man who’s interesting, wanting that person to come to you requires soft eye contact,” Navarro says. If all goes as planned and Interesting Man comes over and strikes up a conversation, Navarro suggests adopting what sounds like a ferris wheel of eye contact. “When we look at people we are interested in, we shift between the eyes, mouth and chin. We go round and round, scanning, because we are looking for even more information.”

To recap: a full pout signals warmth. A tilted head says “Talk to me”. Open eyes (or a ‘smize’) communicate ease. It’s a look, but not my own, and maybe that’s okay for now. “When I first started as an FBI agent, I was scared a lot, but you had to fake it and look like you’re fearless,” Navarro says. “When you begin to incorporate that into yourself, rewiring your thinking, then other people perceive you as fearless.” Or, in my case, friendly.

Photograph: De La Foret/Jesse-Leigh Elford

You may also want to read: Exclusive: In conversation with Sabyasachi Mukherjee and Christian Louboutin

“I’m sorry, am I boring you? Shall I finish?” said make-up pro Lucia Pieroni, focusing her gaze on me from the centre of a backstage reporter huddle. It was New York Fashion Week, and hair and make-up artists were tired of “the look”. Everyone could have used another coffee or a holiday. But not me: I’d waited a lifetime (or at least some very angsty teen years) for a backstage pass. Far from disinterested, I was giddy with rookie excitement — although you wouldn’t have known it from my lifeless expression. “I’m not bored! Not at all!” I stammered. But it was too late. Pieroni had already decided I was a dud. 

My sour expression has been getting me into trouble since an early age. In high school, my principal complained I didn’t register appropriate dismay when he called me into his office because my skirt was too short. My ninth-grade English teacher said I seemed disengaged in class. He took my listening face for a total lack of interest when, in fact, English was one of the only subjects I liked.

When comedian Taylor Orci’s ‘Bitchy Resting Face’ video went viral in 2013, my inbox filled — predictably — with emails subject-lined: “This is you!” Orci’s PSA parody asks: “Do you know someone with a bitchy face?” As the symptoms play out, one sufferer upsets her boyfriend with a single glance. Another offends a sales assistant with an expressionless “Thank you”. Another inadvertently declines a marriage proposal.

And it’s true: even when minding my own business, thinking pleasant thoughts — nice view, cute dog, cute boy, good coffee — my eyes do not crease. The corners of my mouth do not turn up. Instead of broadcasting positive feelings, I remain poker-faced. Like ice queen Victoria Beckham and her disciples Kristen Stewart and Rooney Mara, I may as well have a ‘Do not disturb’ sign hanging from my neck.

 

According to Dr Eric Finzi, author of The Face Of Emotion, some people are simply born with faces that are less expressive than others. A study published in Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences found that those who are congenitally blind often demonstrate similar expressions to their sighted relatives, which means that facial movements are somewhat hereditary. But according to Finzi, that doesn’t mean I can’t deliberately change my resting facial expression. “You can make a conscious decision to smile more,” he says.

Still, I’m conflicted about the idea of altering my natural expression to appear more inviting. I’ve always thought a rude face that masks a positive attitude has its own unique allure. Hollywood casting director Billy Hopkins, who scouted a teenage Kristen Stewart for the movie Speak, agrees. “If someone has a pouty look or a downturned mouth, then they should use that, but be nice. That juxtaposition can be sort of sexy.” And in public settings, a serious face has its advantages: cab drivers rarely strike up a conversation, strangers aren’t interested in small talk. Plus, with the build of someone who will always ride in the middle seat of a crowded car, I have to overcompensate to communicate authority. A new doctor, upon learning I’m a writer, recently asked how I landed a “big-girl job”. He had come recommended by a colleague, so I went out of my way to be friendly, but had my bitch guard been turned up all the way, he might have thought it — but wouldn’t have said it.

So where does bitch face create a roadblock that makes me want to change? In the world of dating, where availability and interest — easily communicated with a flirtatious grin — trump aloofness every time. “People make social judgments about others generally within 100 milliseconds of viewing a face,” says Megan Willis, co-author of the study Judging Approachability On The Face Of It, published by the American Psychological Association. And according to findings from the University of York in the UK, openness is most often associated with the expression of the mouth — unsurprisingly, a smile ranks as more inviting than a frown or neutral mouth. Lips play a specific role in approachability as well. “The small parting of the lip, the relaxation of the muscles, that alone conveys warmth,” says Joe Navarro, a former FBI agent and the author of body-language book What Every Body Is Saying. “That’s why when you’re dating and you’re sitting across from someone, you see the relaxed muscles, the lips are going to be fuller.”

 

I practise the smile on a date with someone I’ve just started seeing. We’re sitting outside a bar, side by side. He’s smoking a cigarette; I’m not. He’s telling a story, and I’m listening, all the while trying to look inviting, engaged and, of course, approachable. I relax my mouth and let the corners turn up. “Julie’s drunk,” he says playfully. (In fact, I’ve barely touched my drink.) “I’m wasted,” I agree sarcastically, laughing it off.

According to Navarro, another option, even if I don’t crack a smile, is to start tilting my head slightly. “At just four weeks old, babies will smile when their mother tilts her head at them,” he says. “We see it in courtship behaviour. When both people have their heads slightly popped to the side, this translates to: ‘I’m so comfortable with you, I’m exposing you to the weakest part of my body.’” This strikes me as a ditzy affectation, but it’s easy enough to incorporate into daily interactions. I order juice with my head to one side, and I’m met with a pleasant “How’s your morning going so far?” from the server. My morning isn’t bad at all, and I tell him so. “Try this,” he says, sliding me a free juice shot. “Pretty good, right?”

Next up, we focus on eye contact. When it comes to creating an appealing gaze, Navarro says the most inviting eyes are fully open and relaxed, rather than squinting — the Clint Eastwood effect — which can be perceived as negative. “When you see a man who’s interesting, wanting that person to come to you requires soft eye contact,” Navarro says. If all goes as planned and Interesting Man comes over and strikes up a conversation, Navarro suggests adopting what sounds like a ferris wheel of eye contact. “When we look at people we are interested in, we shift between the eyes, mouth and chin. We go round and round, scanning, because we are looking for even more information.”

To recap: a full pout signals warmth. A tilted head says “Talk to me”. Open eyes (or a ‘smize’) communicate ease. It’s a look, but not my own, and maybe that’s okay for now. “When I first started as an FBI agent, I was scared a lot, but you had to fake it and look like you’re fearless,” Navarro says. “When you begin to incorporate that into yourself, rewiring your thinking, then other people perceive you as fearless.” Or, in my case, friendly.

Photograph: De La Foret/Jesse-Leigh Elford

You may also want to read: Exclusive: In conversation with Sabyasachi Mukherjee and Christian Louboutin