Someone once said to me, “When I saw you I thought you were going to be really mean. But then I talked to you and you were actually nice.”
I looked at him in surprise. Surprise mixed with my omnipresent bitch face. I was born with it (it’s not Maybelline). There’s a picture of me when I was five or six. It’s a big family photo with my aunts and uncles and in the bottom left corner is little old me. Rocking my resting bitch face (I refuse to capitalize it and give it the power it does not deserve) and scowling like you’ve never seen a five-year-old scowl before.
After all, what does a five-year-old have to scowl about? Okay, it was because I was made to stand in front of the cousin I really didn’t enjoy being around at the time (he’s okay now). But most of the time my bitch face is not because I’m feeling particularly upset about something. In fact, my resting happy face is the same as my resting bitch face.
It’s just my face.
Sometimes I find myself sitting on the bus, headphones in and feeling on top of the world like I’m living a U2 song. Then I catch a glimpse of my reflection in a window. Judgmental eyes stare back at me and I’m filled with despair. “Why the face?” I wonder to myself.
For a while, I committed myself to smiling ad nauseam. I strove for a constantly upturned mouth, screw the wrinkles. It worked for a while and then I started to feel like an idiot. And like I’d failed myself. Because it wasn’t my face I was sporting. It was a caricature. It was someone desperate to please others. I vowed to change.
I find myself doing it still sometimes. Just walking around with a smile on my face and not because I’m genuinely happy, but because I’m scared people assume I’m a bitch based on how I look. Look, I open doors for people all the freaking time. Hold lifts, say thank you, say sorry, say please. I try to pay as close to exact change as possible (except when I’m paying at the self check-out. That’s the time to pay in fifties and reap the benefits). I never speed to get the last parking spot.
So it seems unjust that people should think I’m a bitch based on something completely out of my control. Actions speak louder than words and they should speak louder than faces, too.
But let’s not focus solely on the negative. Let’s think about the positives. I’m walking to the bus station. It’s 5:30pm and starting to get a bit dark. There’s a man walking towards me and he’s got a big leather overcoat on. And not in the relatively harmless Matrix-obsessed way but in the way I-may-be-concealing-weapons-or-my-exposed-penis-under-this-coat kind of way.
What does a woman with resting bitch face do? She lets her facial muscles completely relax. She dissolves into her natural state and stares straight ahead. She doesn’t start veering off away from Coat Man like some woman with a nice face. She walks just as she was before, with intention and purpose. Because hey, she’s just a resting bitch and neither her nor her face has time for your leather coat or your unimpressive weapons.
Nothing happens and resting bitch makes it home in one piece. Thanks in some way to her face.
Let me give you another example. A few years ago, I was trying to find my hotel on the confusing streets of Venice with some friends. For just a second, one vulnerable second, my resting bitch face was replaced with an expression of confusion and frustration. It was in this moment of vulnerability that some nearby man seized his opportunity, grabbed our luggage and exclaimed, “Here! I’ll find your hotel!” He raced away with the luggage and we raced after him. He took it to the right hotel but I was pissed. He held out his hand expectantly and wouldn’t go away. I took a single euro coin from my wallet and stared deep in his Italian eyes as if to say Here, this is what you want? I put the coin in his hand and turned away.
Surely racing along the cobbled streets of Venice with relatively heavy luggage is worth more than a single Euro, right? Thus we can conclude that it was me harnessing the full power of the bitch face that made this guy leave us alone. (Or there’s the off chance that he was really asking for my hand in marriage and I treated him like a common whore.)
After these 23 years of having the face I was born with I’ve come to 80% peace with it. Do I wish I had a nicer resting face? Yeah, it would make some things easier. Maybe dogs will stop barking at me and old women will stop clutching their handbags to their chest when I walk past. But I’ve learnt to live with it. Do I still overcompensate by smiling more often at random strangers? Sometimes. But that’s called networking, guys. You never know when you’ll need to pretend to be happy.
Ultimately, isn’t there something special about looking like a bitch but not being an actual bitch? It’s the very definition of a pleasant surprise. Look it up on Urban Dictionary and all you’ll see is a picture of my face. It’s not all bad. In fact, it’s almost 85% good. It’s just about learning to own it. This resting bitch face. It’s mine.