Thursday, December 10, 2015

Let's take the "bitch" out of "resting bitch face:" About not smiling

Aside from slowing down, smiling is something I'm always trying to get speakers to do when I'm coaching them.

The benefits of smiling are many for public speakers. Smiling signals your brain to release helpful chemicals that make you feel good and reduce your stress--why wouldn't we want that?--and audiences like to see a welcoming smile on the speaker's face. But there's an even more important function that smiling tackles for you: It counteracts that natural tendency of most people's mouths to flat-line or turn down slightly when your face is at rest. \

In other words, smiling is the antidote to what most people these days call "resting bitch face."  But the world seems to notice only when women aren't smiling, and ignores the same tendency in men's faces. But everyone, male and female, does it: When I video-record speakers in practice and ask them to look "professional and neutral," resting bitch face is generally what results.

The New York Times article I'm not mad. That's just my RBF quotes women who say they use "resting bitch face" to look authoritative, neutral, pensive and more, particularly in meetings. The article also notes that "Stop telling women to smile" is a slogan of the anti-street harrassment movement. And it shares this gem: "The country star Kacey Musgraves recently helped Buzzfeed create a list of 17 more accurate names for RBF (among them, Resting “this wouldn’t bother you if I was a guy” face)." Alarmingly, it notes that women are seeking help from plastic surgeons to "correct" the "problem," which is, again, completely normal.

Do I advocate smiling for no reason when it comes to public speaking? Not at all. Again, smiling, even a little, evens out that downward-turn tendency of your mouth., and more importantly, acts to reduce your stress. You don't need a goofy smile, just a counter to gravity. And that goes for men and for women, in my book.

But I do think we can get rid of "resting bitch face" as terminology, even in fun. It underscores a lot of stereotypes about women (that we need to be pleasant and entertaining and not look as if we might be thinking of complaining about anything), and it biases against women without admitting that men's faces do the same. Let's talk about everyone's "resting face," neutral face, or professional face.

If you want some great evidence for how a smile can transform not only RBF but your face in general, check out this wonderful video here or below, done by a student who told her subjects that she was recording things she found beautiful. Being called "beautiful," for most of these people, was both surprising and pleasing, yielding a lovely smile. I typically ask speakers I'm coaching what they will look like when a high-stakes talk is over, and that yields similarly beautiful smiles--after which I say, "THAT's the smile I want from you on stage."

So smile, speakers--and do your part to stop the meme about "resting bitch face," so we can all relax.

People react to being called beautiful

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Dita Margarita)

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