Illustration by Kris Atomic [ Website ]
I came across this article in today’s The Sunday Times, and its content resonated with me because the very conversation that I’ve had with my closest friends for years. “This is my default expression. If I constantly smile, especially for no apparent reason, won’t I look mental?!” Some texts have been bold to echo my sentiments. We are often misjudged for the way we look. Just because a woman looks angry or unhappy, doesn’t necessarily mean she is.
I’m not unhappy, it’s just my face
By Adeline Chia
An illustration has been making the rounds in my friends’ Facebook accounts, detailing the condition known as the Chronic Bitchface.
There are 2 parts of the artwork. On the left, a drawing of a smiling blonde, face upturned to catch the rays of an imaginary sun. 2 birds are tying a ribbon in her hair. The caption is “How I feel.” On the right, “How I look”, is a drawing of a woman with a stern bun. Her eyes are caught mid-roll and her mouth is like a prune.
This drawing is not new – the United Kingdom-based illustrator Kris Atomic made it about a year ago – but it chronicles a timeless, universal condition that befalls a proportion of the population: people whose default expression is “unhappy”.
I am one of the afflicted and I want to say: Have some pity. Imagine going through life with a constant chorus of people saying “Cheer up!”, “Are you feeling okay?”, “Smile, babe!”. And that is if they even dare to go near you in the first place.
There is some kind of short circuit in my body: The sunshine and rainbows in my mind get lost en route to my face.
It is something that started when I was young. During class in junior college, an English teacher said: “Some people just look so unhappy to be here.” His cold roving eyes landed on me. “It wouldn’t hurt to smile sometimes, you know?”
I was puzzled. What I thought was a “listening hard in concentration” face was interpreted as being “unhappy”.
At press events, I sometimes stay behind to socialize with the PR people. As we chat, someone would remark: “Hey, I was quite scared of you at first. When you just got here, I thought you were really angry.”
All through my life, my varied inner life does not seem to translate well onto my mug. The respective expressions for “doing a maths problem”, “feeling good after shower”, “thinking about what to have for dinner” and “spacing out” seem to all map onto a version of “grumpy”.
It is said because generally, I am not an unhappy person. My moods are reasonable. My life has not been a series of unfortunate events so as to twist my fate into a permanent mask of misery.
So why the long face? My deep Freudian self-psychoanalysis threw up this reason: Could it be that I subconsciously want to emit a tough, don’t-mess-with-me aura?
It is a common enough desire. The face that so many people identify with the Chronic Bitchface illustration shows that it could be part of a common self-mythology. Everyone wants to be Anna Wintour, not the grinning village idiot. But if this were actually true, then there will be hordes of people walking around with black faces. The world would be an endless funeral procession.
So most people, including myself, think they have a Chronic Bitchface, but the truth may be a little more mundane: We have Occasional Bitchface. Which is normal. But I dare wager that I get misunderstood a lot more than the regular person. I have a more murderous mien than average.
This cannot be statistically proven, but an indicator is that my hairdresser, very worries after dyeing my hair black, told me to put more rouge on my face because I looked “fierce.” Several friends sent me the Chronic Bitchface illustration as if it was my unauthorized biography.
The situation is worse because I am a woman. Women are expected to have pleasant, compliant, open expressions. This is why more women are in the service industry. A woman who does not smile readily gets called out more than a man who doesn’t. It’s plain old sexism.
Several close friends – all women – suffer from this condition as well, and we have support groups that also function as bragging competitions of who has the vicious visage. (Bitchfaces flock together.) One friend said: “Even my own brother said, ‘Why so unhappy?’ And I wasn’t unhappy. I was just tired.”
Realization sets in. “Maybe that’s why my ex-boss hated me!”
The painful truth is: It’s just the cast of our faces. In the words of Lady GaGa, the purveyor of musical pearls such as I Like It Rough and Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say): We were Born This Way.
Our faces have cost us possible friendships with strangers turned off by the air of aggression. We also need to constantly reassure concerned friends and family: “I’m not depressed, I’m just trying to remove a piece of food stuck in my teeth with my tongue.”
So what is the cure for this affliction? I will simply smile more. But the problem is, when I smile for no reason, I end up looking like a simpering fool. Simpering or suicidal? It’s a tough call. As I said, have pity.
Are you also living with the Chronic Bitchface condition?