When I was about 8 years old, I went to a three-day equestrian camp during the summer and enjoyed several rain-soaked days riding on the backs of beautiful horses. The animals smelled like manure and my clothes were usually drenched all the way through, but I loved every second of gently trotting along the red dirt path, following the scout leader with my fellow campers in a wide line while the earthy smell of rain permeated the air.
My celebratory mood would soon be broken by a camp counselor who turned towards me mid trot with a parental look on her face. “Your attitude will get you off the horse,” she said sternly.
I blanched and stared back at her, uncomprehending. Without any word of explanation, she pulled her mare away from me and kept riding.
Attitude? I thought, lagging behind. What attitude? I didn’t do anything wrong.
I reexamined my behavior from the past two seconds and concluded that I really hadn’t done anything wrong. The only thing I had been preoccupied with was keeping the horse on a straight path. I hadn’t made a face at her, complained, or talked back so I couldn’t see how she thought I was misbehaving.
Nevertheless, I was on my very best behavior for the rest of the outing, lest I give this woman a reason to keep me from riding again.
Not many years later, I unintentionally made a classmate so afraid of me, she actually gave me her pencil as a peace offering when all I had done was glance up from my book to look at her. Don’t misunderstand, I wasn’t angry that she interrupted me. I was just in an intense reading session and my mind was reeling from all the action going on in the novel. Nonetheless, no amount of reassurance would convince her that I was not out for her blood.
I was ostracized by certain groups at school for being too serious, as well as called out by a coach or two for being “disrespectful” and all without knowing what was going on. It wasn’t until one of my friends broke it down for me that I look, to put it charitably, like a Disney villain most of the time, that I understood.
I didn’t even know until last year that there was an actual term for the condition I have suffered with since childhood. Nonetheless, after dedicating hours of research to the subject and interviewing several reliable sources, I have diagnosed myself with Resting Bitch Face Syndrome.
Resting Bitch Face (sometimes known as Bitchy Resting face) is when a person unintentionally expresses aggression or agitation while their face is at rest.
To those who don’t have this problem, the solution seems simple: smile more.
Unfortunately, this is easier said than done.
You see, for a person with Resting Bitch Face, looking happy is a full-time job. You can’t allow your concentration to slip for even a nano second or BOOM! This happens:
Most of the time this means I can’t pay attention to what people are saying because I’m too preoccupied with trying to convince the speaker I’m not thinking of ripping their throat out and feeding their carcass to my young.
This makes meeting new people particularly difficult. I can’t count all the times I’ve forgotten a name immediately after hearing it because I had devoted all my mental energies into looking friendly.
Am I smiling too hard? Do my eyes match up, or do I look insane? Okay, tone it down a bit. Not enough? Alright, here we go, that’s it. I think. I need a mirror.
What people with RBF try to look like while forcing a smile:
What they usually look like:
When interacting with people is part of your job, the struggle becomes all the more real.
My first job was at a fast food establishment and it wasn’t unusual for me to be pulled aside because of my “attitude.” In fact, my co-workers awarded me the nickname “The Scarey-Glarey Girl,” a moniker I originally thought was funny up until the point where I realized they genuinely thought I was angry all the time.
I was routinely asked by customers if I ever smiled and was forced to acquiesce with a grin so they wouldn’t think of me as a humorless piece of cardboard.
No, sir. I never smile. My father died laughing.
One particular instance comes to mind when I think of the embarrassing situations RBF has gotten me into:
We were at the height of our lunch rush and I needed to focus to make sure I remembered everyone’s drinks, condiment requests, and place in the chaotic assembly line of food trays. I was restocking styrofoam cups, pumping lemonade, taking orders, and dishing out barbecue sauce like I was a member of the Red Cross passing out aide in a disaster area.
Once the lunches had been dispersed to the hungry masses and the crowd settled, I was pulled aside by none other than the store owner who informed me that some little old lady witnessed my smoldering look of undirected hatred and took it upon herself to complain to the highest authority.
“Now, I know you don’t have a natural smile,” the owner said, amicably. “But if you could try to look more cheerful….”
Oh, I try. God knows I try. Do you know how I feel when I see photos my friends took of me when I wasn’t looking? Or when I accidentally catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror while I’m deep in thought?
The moral of this story is don’t assume that because someone looks bitchy that they are. Maybe they have resting bitch face, too, and you could be missing out on a good friend or love interest if you judge them without getting to know them first. I know we’re scary, but if you’re brave enough to approach us you may be pleasantly surprised.
To all the girls with Resting Bitch Face, I know that just because you aren’t smiling it doesn’t mean you’re bored, or angry, or sad. I understand that you don’t mean to look at others as if they’re a fly you peeled off of the bottom of your shoe.
It’s not you.
It’s your face.
Well, it might be you.
But it’s probably not.
Resting Bitch Face can be a pain in the butt, however, look on the bright side:
At least no one will interrupt your reading.