I woke up to a direct message from my best friend on Twitter this morning that contained a link to a New York Post article titled, “Women are flocking to plastic surgeons to fix ‘resting bitch face.’” Dr. David Schafer shares in the article that he gets several requests each week from patients to adjust their “RBF.” My initial thought was, “Maybe people should fix their bad habit of commenting on a woman’s resting bitch face instead.” Then I tweeted that.
My friend DM’d this article to me because she knows how defensive I get when people comment on my resting bitch face, particularly strangers. I have been dealing with RBF my entire life. Why? Because… it’s my face. It has quite literally rested in a “bitchy” tone since I was born. The phrase is self explanatory.
I can’t even remember when it became the norm for strangers to come up to me in public or at parties and ask me, “Why do you look so angry?” or tell me, “You look sad” or “pissed” or “like you hate your life.” While these typical interactions blend together, there are a few moments that have left a lasting impression on how I feel about strangers treating my face like a walking target for criticism.
The first moment I realized how inconvenient my face looked to others was at a frat party my freshman year of college. My friends and I half-stood, half-danced around in a circle — you know, that thing freshman girls do to make it look like they’re having fun and remaining cool at the same time. I forgot to make my face look like it was having fun, though, when a frat brother caught a glimpse of it through a flashing strobe light. It must have offended him or hurt his ego, which was built upon the success of his house party, enough for him to say something to me about it.
“Smile.” He said. That one little word put me over the edge. So short, so simple, yet so entitled. It is really bold of someone to tell somebody else what to do with their face. My friend, who also has RBF, yelled at him for me. “Don’t tell her to smile, I hate when people tell me to smile.” I agreed with a strong “Yeah,” realizing I hated that too. It was as if I had an awakening that it bothered me when others insulted me. It seemed like every weekend after that, it became routine for guys I had never met before to tell me to smile. I fed them the “Don’t tell me to smile,” or “It’s just my face,” line every time.
That was the routine until my senior year of college. I was in an ethics lecture with two professors I really admire. They are both extremely successful journalists, and as a journalism major, I was eager for their admiration. I was in deep thought about Utilitarianism as we were discussing the idea of the “greater good” when one of the professors stopped her lecture. “Marissa, are you ok? You look angry.” I laughed it off and responded, “Yeah, it’s just my face.” The rest of the class laughed it off too. As they returned their attention to the lecture, I replayed the moment over in my mind repeatedly and wondered what I looked like. Do all of my professors think I look angry or uninterested in their lectures?
It is different when someone you respect says something that you regularly find offensive, because there was clearly only good intention behind it. When I went home the following weekend, I asked my mother if I should work on my facial expression.
“Are people commenting on it?” Sigh, (cue recap of everything I just wrote out).
“Yeah, if it’s becoming a problem, then you need to work on it,” she said.
She was right at the time, because if something bothers you enough to the point it consumes your thoughts daily, then you should do something about it. So I worked on it. When I was in class, I attempted to rest my eyes and mouth the way Tyra Banks would if she were smizing. Then five minutes would go by and I would already forget about my facial expression falling back to its original form. Sounds dramatic, right? I can’t believe I put that much effort in to look approachable while I listened to a lecture on ethical decision making either.
Four months later, I moved to New York City, because there is no better way to escape your problems than to move to another state, right? I even posted a Snapchat story of my face the month before my move that said something like, “I can’t wait to move to NYC, where no one will comment on my resting bitch face because I’ll blend in with everyone else.”
I think my face actually grew to be more bitchy looking after one week of living in New York. Clearly, I was moving in the wrong direction. I felt like I had to intensify my RBF sometimes to appear un-approachable to any stranger that might try to interact with me while I waited for the subway. It is like a defense mechanism when you don’t have any pepper spray. Afraid someone walking by might attack you? Just glare at something, they won’t waste their time on you. But I still did not expect someone I met one afternoon and ended up at a bar with the same night to ask me, “Why do you always look like you hate your life?”
“Oh, you mean ‘always’ as in the three hours you’ve known me?” While that would have been an amazing comeback, what I actually said was, “Why do people think it’s okay to comment on someone else’s face?” The four people I sort of knew sitting in our booth seemed slightly uncomfortable at what I assumed they thought was an overreaction.
Within the same moment that I cared so much about what someone else thought of my face, I decided not to care anymore. I do not owe anyone an explanation on why I look the way I look. I don’t go around asking people, “Excuse me, why does your face looks so unpleasant?” That would be pretty rude, wouldn’t it? Besides, if someone’s facial expression is reflecting a negative emotion, it isn’t my business to know what that emotion is. To be clear, if someone looks sad, it is nice to make sure they are doing okay. But, asking someone “Are you okay?” is much different than asking someone “Why do you look like you hate your life?” Great, moving on now.
Society is so in tune with condemning the judgement of others’ appearances and vocalizing it to their face, yet, have no problem commenting negatively on a woman’s face if she does not look “approachable” enough for their comfort. In the New York Post article, Dr. Melissa Doft says, “People gravitate to women who they perceive as happy.” Even if I did look happy, I would not want the type of people who go up to women and tell them their face looks bad to approach me anyway. And people sure as hell should not feel like they have to get plastic surgery at the expense of others’ comments. However, if someone does not like the way they look, by all means, they have every right to get that plastic surgery. But they should do it for them, not Chad who just left his finance job and chose to use their face as an ice breaker at his local bar.