Victoria Beckham, unsmiling. Photo: Getty images
Helen of Troy might have had the face that launched a thousand ships, but turns out I have the face that launched a thousand nosey, patronising comments. You see, I am afflicted with ‘bitch face’, a non-rare and non-debilitating condition that means when my face is in repose and I’m pondering important questions like what nut would I wipe from the world’s surface if I was given the power (answer: brazil nut) I actually look like I’ve recently been told I lost my job, have five months to live and my puppy has died in freak brazil nut avalanche. Turns out if I’m not actively focusing on plastering on a grin my expression runs the gamut all the way from ‘grumpy’ to ‘sullen’ with a few detours to ‘pissed off’ and ‘unimpressed’ for variety. If you also have bitch face you’ve probably had people stop you on the street to annoyingly inform you “It takes more muscles to frown than to smile” (to which the only good retort is “Fantastic. Now I can skip this evening’s Pilates class.”)
In a peculiar twist surely deserving of further research it appears this affliction only affects women and can only be diagnosed by male strangers. I’ve never had a woman or friend say to me “You’d be so much prettier if you smiled”, but I’ve had plenty of male strangers interrupt my day to share that opinion on my expression. In fact once I was on a bus after I actually had been given some unpleasant news from my doctor (all fine now, thanks for enquiring) and was doing some general ruminating and wallowing when some dude decided to bust out the “It can’t be that bad, love”. Sometimes it can be! So let’s put possibly sad faces in the same category as possibly pregnant ladies and stick to the rule of “If you aren’t utterly sure of what you’re dealing with, shut the hell up.”
My expression runs the gamut all the way from ‘grumpy’ to ‘sullen’ with a few detours to ‘pissed off’ and ‘unimpressed’ for variety.
David and Victoria Beckam at the Vanity Fair Oscars party last month. Photo: Getty
The interesting thing about bitch face is that even if you weren’t in a bad mood before being stopped to have your expression judged, you certainly are afterwards. Another Daily Life writer and fellow bitch face was victim of this self-fulfilling prophecy when a man came up to her and said “Hey Miss, you dropped something!” She freaked out and started frantically looking around until the guy added “Your smile. You dropped your smile". Strangely enough she was not charmed, words were possibly sworn and her mood changed from fine to fuming. Personally, I feel my sarcasmic (yes, yes, not a word – but really shouldn’t it be?) abilities may be a direct result of my naturally angsty visage, because it’s given me a lot of practice in issuing a few withering words or an expertly deployed eye roll.
I do get that that these people are only trying to be friendly but I’d much prefer the genius notion of saying something along the lines of “That’s a great dress”, as opening with an insult about my face isn’t exactly endearing. Much like the related comment “Oh, you look tired today” it’s just not very nice to be criticised under the guise of faux concern. If I wanted to be judged I’d go on reality TV, I don’t particularly need it when I go out to grab some groceries. And lastly why do people act like we have an obligation to spend our lives going around looking pretty and smiley? If it bothers you that I’m wrecking the bus scenery WITH MY FACE go visit the art gallery or something. Sheesh.
So fellow bitch face sufferers, while ours is indeed a hard, hard lot in life, I want to let you know that things could be worse. Before we start despairing at not having a Jack-Nicholson-as-the-Joker appearance we should think of my friend, Bronwyn, who is afflicted with its far worse polar opposite – kind face. She has the sort of quick-to-surface grin that is an instant magnet to weirdoes, creeps and donation collectors. While bitch face might attract more than a few comments it also does a good job of weeding out the majority of predatory social interactions because it’s like a walking billboard saying “Don’t mess with me, chump”. And that’s something I can smile about.