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Katy Louise writes about health, wealth, happiness and relationships, and the spiritual insights she gains along her path. She is currently editor of Top Sante magazine (www.topsante.co.uk). Prior to that she was editor of Bodyfit magazine (now Your Fitness www.yourfitnesstoday.com) and the launch editor of Soul&Spirit magazine (www.soulandspiritmagazine.com). Katy is also a certified Fitsteps and STOTT Pilates instructor. She is the go-to girl for all matters relating to health, wellbeing and spirituality.

Saturday 28 May 2016

'Bitchy resting face': what it is and why I have it

Have you ever heard the expression 'bitchy resting face'? I confess I hadn't, until I read a column by author Katie Roiphe in the latest (June 2016) issue of Red magazine. In said column, Katie was sticking up for her decision not to smile in photographs, at least not professional author ones. She had been criticised for looking 'icy', 'mean', 'intimidating' and 'aloof' on her book jackets, so her publishers wanted to make her look more approachable and likeable, hence her doing a new shoot, which still ended up producing unsmiling photos.

CONTEMPLATIVE: Katie Roiphe, author, who's accused of looking 'mean and intimidating'.  (photo: Jason Andrew)

Katie was questioning why women are always expected to smile. We all know plenty of celebs with 'BRF' who refuse to smile inanely at the camera: Victoria Beckham, Angelina Jolie, Cara Delevingne et al. I once read a magazine article that grouped celebs into two distinct categories, as if once they'd chosen their smile status, they had to stick to it for life, for fear of confusing anyone.

Katie also points out how Hillary Clinton had been admonished for not smiling more – as if that's the most important part about being a potential president! Male candidates – in fact males in general – are never scorned for not smiling. They are just thought of as 'brooding, serious, soulful'.
So why is it not OK for a woman to look serious and thoughtful, and instead be labeled bitchy when not grinning from ear to ear, even if she hasn't said anything of the sort?

This contemplation struck a real chord. While not having had the BRF label hurled at me, I have been told I look aloof on numerous occasions (and presumably way more people have thought it than have actually said it to my face). I'm often surprised to hear peoples' first impressions of me, as they differ so wildly from how I ever feel or think inside my heart and mind. Ever since I was a teenager, random people have told me to cheer up. My first job, working as a shop assistant in Top Shop and Top Man on weekends, included a variety of duties – answering the phone, manning the till, clearing the changing room rail – but one of them was purely just being on the shop floor, ready and eager to assist customers. As part time jobs go, it was a pretty good one, so I had no reason to be looking or feeling disgruntled. But so many times the manager or someone else would tell me to look happy, presumably thinking I wasn't presenting a great impression of the store! It always surprised me, as I was never in a 'down' mood to begin with so wasn't really sure how, exactly, to cheer up. So I began to study my face in the mirror. I realised that when I relax all my facial muscles, the line made by my lips actually turns down a bit in the corners. Also, my jaw is fairly square, front on. Both these attributes make me look, I suppose, a bit miserable.

BRF IS THE WORD! The best example of BRF I can find, pouting and attempting to look sexy, age 15, for my high school production of Grease (in my defence, everyone else on this photo looks equally hideous). 
And it wasn't just people in shops. Sometimes even strangers in the street – always men, some of whom are arrogant f**ks who think they have the right to tell young women what to do or be (she says between clenched teeth) – would shout out: 'Cheer up luv it might never happen'. Of course, at the time I never managed to think up a witty reply, so I'd either ignore it and walk on, or try to prove to them I wasn't moody by grinning (how I wish I'd glared at them and shouted: 'Well it has just happened as you have crossed my path!' then given them the finger).
A beloved English teacher wrote that I was 'aloof' on one of my school reports, which really hurt, and even my own husband tells me he thought I was an 'ice queen' on our first few dates (and yes I did smile at some point!). It's unfortunate, as I could be sitting contemplating something quite lovely, or just mulling over events of the day, and to someone else I look miserable and 'hard'. 

To counteract my natural BRF, I now put on a semi-smile at times, where the corners of my mouth and cheek muscles are active just enough to make the line of my lips straight. The up-side is that I look more approachable; the down side is I've created permanent wrinkles around my mouth by always using these muscles (though they're far less bothersome than the noticeable frown lines between my eyes, and the horizontal line deepening above my left eyebrow – the one I can raise independently to make an even more 'bitchy quizzical face').

MODEL BRF: Aged 24, modelling for the Telegraph in Sydney - throwing in the questioning left eyebrow for good measure!

I wonder whether Mona Lisa put on a semi smile to hide a naturally BRF? Whether she did it consciously or not, it turned her into the most famous painted woman of all time. Although she's not grinning exactly, everyone is drawn to her enigmatic 'half smile', while few remember any of the portraits of other aristocratic women, who always look so severe and, therefore, less attractive.

SEMI SMILE: The mini 'smile' I have to do just to not look grumpy (aged 26, before the wrinkles emerged!)
'There must be a mood short of overwhelmingly sunny that does not signify aggression? Surely one can be intelligent, clever, powerful or, you know, thinking without being "bitchy",' says Katie. I agree! Why must women always be expected to look joyous and happy just to make everyone else (by that I mean mostly men) feel good about themselves?
And anyway, there is one place where it's definitely good not to smile all the time: a job interview. Having conducted plenty of them, it's sad to say that the candidates who smile inanely and laugh nervously between questions do themselves a disservice in that they come across as silly and not professional, even though I can see on paper that they are totally competent. Lots of laughter and smiling definitely work in your favour on a date, but not in interviews. And, thinking about it, I've been successful at 10 out of 14 job interviews so far, from bar work up to editing national magazines, which isn't bad going. So perhaps my BRF is not such a bad thing after all.

What do you think? let me know in your comments below...