Smiles are expensive.
Very expensive, in fact. Much like the notorious first impression: smiles, or their absence, can make or break an interaction. If you’ve ever been told to “smile” on any given day, then you know exactly what I mean.
What exactly is behind a smile, though? Smiles come in all different sizes and shapes. Smiles showcase our laughter, our happiness, our excitement. They also hide our fears, our sadness, and even our despair. Smiles are like rain clouds. You think you know what they mean. On a sunny day, the inclination of a storm cloud might make you wish with the highest of hopes that it won’t rain on your parade or barbecue. Perhaps, just perhaps though…someone else has been looking forward to that sprinkle, that tickle of refreshment for whatever reason. Maybe it’s purely symbolic, maybe it’s more pragmatic.
Being told to smile for me is like listening to nails on a chalkboard. It’s almost as if the person that’s pleading with me to smile can’t quite move throughout their day, as if their life somehow is inconvenienced by my inability or lack of desire to smile. How dare you? How dare you reduce the depth of my existence to whether or not you see a smirk on my face? This is not to say that there aren’t sometimes decent intentions behind these well wishes.
Case in point: I’m standing in line, waiting to cross the street. My mind is struggling to sort through a series of what if’s and how will I’s (“what if I don’t make enough for groceries this month,” “how do I fix my credit if I’m forced to choose dinner over a credit card bill,” “why are people who look like me twice as likely to be misunderstood but least likely to get justice, what if it were me, my brother, my child?”). Some stranger walks up, seemingly bothered, and says “Smile, it’s going to be okay.” Why is this seemingly supportive statement so haphazardly wrapped in a bow that screams SMILE. Why should I appreciate or accept your selfish attempt at making my day better with your demand that I smile? How could this so-called supportive statement be well received?
It’s not that I don’t appreciate the gesture. For someone like me, who has a bitchy resting face (real thing people, look it up if you don’t believe me), someone else’s plea for me to smile just screams “what about me, what about my needs, why won’t you smile so that I can feel better about something that may or may not even be remotely related to you and your well-being?”
I’m actually trying to smile.
You may not know this, but it has taken every ounce of my universal energy to get out of bed, to seize the day, to hold the elevator door for strangers, to let that third vehicle pass into traffic, to think outside of myself for a moment. Let’s be real, I could very well have decided to be a jerk and pretend I don’t see those strangers running for the elevator, or those people who are
impatiently waiting for some good samaritan to wait just a few seconds so they can join the morning commute with the rest of us drones. Does this make me even more deserving of the verbal intrusion, the demand that I smile?
Perhaps my disdain stems from a childhood full of “You’d be so pretty if you smiled more.” Please feel free to add this to the list of reasons why leading up to adulthood, I “took back my beauty.” I refused to let my beauty be defined by my countenance, by how I wore my hair, by the mood I was in. I took ownership for my bitchy face and flipped off those who would deem me any less beautiful because I refused to walk around with a spacey smiled plastered on my face. I chopped my relaxed strands off and decided to wear my hair in its full, voluminous natural state. I told myself that even if I was having a bad day, my beauty or my worthiness to be seen as attractive was not an anchor that would hold me down, but instead a weight that would be lifted.
Don’t you see how expensive these smiles are? I speak to my annoyance of being told to smile, to engage with strangers who don’t know me or my plight from that of an orangutan in the jungle. So the next time you think that you’re going to do some stranger justice, a service by telling them to smile, think of your true motive. Why is it so important for them to smile? Does it have anything to do with you? For just a moment, I want you to imagine what that statement means for that individual.
Instead of telling someone to smile…instead say “it’s going to be okay,” tell them you think they’re beautiful, compliment their hair or outfit, tell them you appreciate them just because. I promise that for some of us, this goes a lot further than simply demanding that we smile.