I smiled at (almost) everyone today

dontsmile

A lot of you are probably like me: you have a great “resting bitch face” that you usually wear when you’re out in public, going about your business. Like any normal human, you don’t walk around with  a big smile on your face (unless you’ve had a great day, in which case, good for you!), and sometimes, due to your mood, your task, or uh, your face, you may appear pretty bitchy looking. Not a thing wrong with your resting bitch face, my friends. No shame in the scowl game.

I use mine like armour – after years of living in New York and walking everywhere, you have to have some weapons in your arsenal to attempt to keep the hyenas at bay. I’ve lived in many places, but you won’t get hit on more anywhere than in New York. Maybe it’s just because there are so many people: so many women for men to gawk at, and so many dudes who consider the streets of New York as their personal buffet.  Now, I’m not saying that every single comment, smile, or hello from a stranger is a bad thing. I’ve smiled and said hi to many a gentleman who greeted me in what I thought was a polite, non-threatening way (and I had to laugh at the one dude who very earnestly told me that he loved me out the window of a parked car one time) but what I am saying is that MOST interactions on the street are unwanted. And there are a few, like “Hey Sexy, you have beautiful lips,” or “Hey baby, why don’t you smile for me?” that are probably never going to go over well.

notbaby

Bottom line, it’s generally easier for us ladies to put our shades on (to avoid eye contact); put our headphones in (so we don’t hear the catcalls); and apply our best mean mug when we go outside in order to avoid most of that unwanted attention.

But the other day, I decided to try the opposite. I was going to smile at everyone I made eye contact with. I was interested to see how others would react, but mostly it was selfish: I wanted to see if putting forth a happier face would actually make me feel happier. It’s a fact that body language effects mood; I’ve read that if you start fake laughing, it will often become genuine. Maybe changing my instant reaction from a scowl to a smile would be better for me. It was worth a shot.

And you know what, it worked. Most people, when smiled at, return that smile. That brief, subtle interaction with other people makes you feel more connected to the world—and more connected to a world that’s full of generally happy, good people. It’s almost like you’re sharing a secret with that person; it’s fun. Now, I can’t say I was 100% successful. There were a few dudes who came at me with a bit too much eye contact, a smile verging on a leer; my instincts kicked back in and reverted back to my patented glare/sneer combo that I reserve for creeps. I realize this is a bit of a double standard; maybe those dudes were trying out the “smile at everybody” experiment too. But I’ve had one too many instances where a simple polite nod or smile translates as permission for someone to approach me in an aggressive manner, and it’s not worth the ensuing hassle. So yeah, it is a bit of a double standard that I have to treat every friendly guy on the street as a potential dirtbag, but newflash: that’s the dirtbags’ fault, not mine.

Anyway, I had a good time with this experiment. It doesn’t have to be overt; a small smile when you catch someone’s eye isn’t such a big deal. I know lots of positive-minded people who live this way all the time, and I have no doubt it has a significant effect on their disposition. I’ll probably never get rid of my mean mug mask—it’s served me well—but it’s easy to keep that mask on for too long. Taking it off and allowing yourself to be more open and friendly to the world around you is a freeing thing.

I’d love for you to give it a try and let me know how it goes :)

 

 

 

 

3 Comments

  • Reply September 16, 2014

    lauren

    I like this! As another social experiment, you should take wishbone for a walk someday. So many people smile at dogs!!

  • Reply March 30, 2015

    Sherry

    lol, i have resting bitch face all the time, even when i was young and living in southern california. is it sad that i would find this social experiment extremely challenging and scary? i might try this tomorrow though.

  • Reply March 31, 2015

    Ashleigh VanHouten

    Sherry – this is experiement is TOTALLY challenging and scary, and trust me – I won’t blame you if you have to resort to bitch face a couple times, as I did. But it’s so easy for us to get our faces stuck in a frown because it’s easier, when making the effort to smile can make YOUR day better. You don’t have to do it for the strangers on the street, do it for yourself :) I’d love to hear how it goes!

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