World Smile Day is in three days. To celebrate, I’m having a “faceoff” between Resting Bitch Face (RBF) and smiling. I’m diving into the research behind RBF – yes scientists say RBF is real – and smiling to find out the benefits, if any, of both.
This is a personal issue for me too. I’ve been accused on numerous occasions of having RBF. It’s frustrating because most of the time when someone asks me if I’m mad or upset I’m not! I’m just enjoying some chill time and many times I might actually be feeling happy and carefree. Sure, RBF is targeted largely towards women, which I think is completely sexist. Why do men feel women always need to look happy and welcoming? (I think my RBF just turned into anger!). But I digress, that’s not what I’m addressing today.
Drag Queens Don’t Lie
About 11 years ago my now husband took me on a date to Sunday’s A Drag at The Starlight Room in San Francisco. This legendary event, which is still running, is a morning of food, feathers, bouffants and song-and-dance routines by costumed drag queens and transgender performers (see a video of the fun here). I’m sitting at a table with my husband enjoying the show when a glittered and sequin drag queen flutters over and is singing and dancing directly in front of me. Everyone is smiling and laughing – or so I thought. In the middle of the song, the drag queen looks right at me and says in her deepest vibrato, “Smile bitch.” I was shocked – stunned really. After I composed myself I almost yelled back, “I thought I was bitch!” But then a realization washed over me. My goodness! I have RBF.
Resting Bitch Face Hits Mainstream
For those of you who don’t know exactly what RBF means, here’s the definition by Urban Dictionary: A person, usually a girl, who naturally looks mean when her face is expressionless, without meaning too.
I take pride in knowing that my generation actually identified and coined the term RBF. It was included in the Urban Dictionary in 2009 but had been a topic among the 20-something crowd for a few years prior (yup, myself included). Online memes were soon created and RBF was officially propelled into mainstream jargon when this viral mock-PSA, “Bitchy Resting Face,” hit the internet.
Is Resting Bitch Face A Real Phenomena?
Yes, friends, RBF is real and it’s now backed by science. Behavioral researchers with firm Noldus Information Technology, Jason Rogers and Abbe Macbeth decided to investigate RBF and their findings were enlightening. By using Noldus’ FaceReader, facial expression analysis software, they were able to analyze thousands of expressions without human bias. The result? If the software registered a face at 97% neutral they found that the 3% difference is an underlying emotion showing traces of sadness, happiness or anger for example. People who’s face is registered at 97% have RBF.
“We see that people who have this RBF expression [have] double the amount of emotionality expressed,” said Macbeth. The good news for those plagued with RBF is the science is saying you’re emoting double than the average person. Yay! But the bad news is if your RBF is registered with a 6% variable – well, the most common expression expressed at this rate is contempt: the feeling that something is worthless or deserving scorn.
Mindful Emotions And Celebrities Who Have RBF
So, the takeaway here is if you have RBF, be mindful of your emotions because they do show on your face more. For comparison, here is a list of RBF celebrities. Some celebrities who have RBF register as happy faces but others….well, you can decide for yourself: Jennifer Aniston and Blake Lively (both actresses are viewed as having happy RBFs); Queen Elizabeth (I can’t decided if she has a happy or contempt face); fashion designer Victoria Beckham, actress Kristen Stewart and Kanye West (one of the few males who is tortured with having RBF).
If you’re unsure if you have a RBF, you can test for yourself here!
BTW: remember my perceived annoyance that RBF is sexist? Well, because the FaceReader is a machine and doesn’t have gender bias, turns out that it detected the same amount of RBF in males and females. My anger was well placed – it’s a social norm and in my book sexist.
Why Do Americans Smile So Much?
Now that I’ve hashed about RBF let’s talk about smiles. People always know a tourist is from America because they’re “smiley.” The American stereotypical smile is an actual cultural trait. Historically, countries with lots of immigration relied more on nonverbal communication. Hence, people smile there more. Specifically, the United States is comprised of immigrants (despite what a certain president may think about this issue). When people from different countries were immigrating to the US and colonizing it, smiling was a universal way of showing they were friendly when they came into contact with a person they didn’t know or who didn’t speak the same langue. Yes friends, Americans literally smile more because it was a way of socially bonding, to build trust (didn’t bode well for Native Americans), and cooperation starting with the first settlers. Now it’s engrained in our culture.
“Eastern European people are seen as very stoic and not showing a lot of emotion,” said Macbeth. That’s because countries that are mostly homogenous, such as Eastern Europe, China and Zimbabwe for example have just few nationalities represented in their populations compared to the United States and Canada that is very diverse with 83 and 63 source countries.
Smiling is a cornerstone in America and people who smile more reap many benefits. A study found people who smile more are perceived more positively than a non-smiling person. Additionally, intelligence and creating “warmth” are both perceived by a smiling person verses non-smiling. But is it true that people who smile more are actually more successful?
According to a study, yes, happy people are more successful. “[There is] strong support that happiness, in many cases, leads to successful outcomes, rather than merely following from them,” said author Sonja Lyubomirsky of the University of California, Riverside.
Additionally, people who smile more are perceived as being healthier and more attractive too. An obvious correlation is that people who are happier aren’t mired in health issues and/or financial woes. Which means they aren’t as stressed or unhealthy as their counterparts who do.
Resting Bitch Face vs. Smiling
At the conclusion of my research there is a clear winner. If you want to have continued success, perceived attractiveness and health then smiling is the antidote. So in conclusion, there really is something to this World Smile Day after all.
To all my fellow RBF sisters and brothers out there – not to worry! Take pride in knowing you emote three to six percent more than the average person. Use it to your advantage and connect emotionally with others more because they’ll be able to read our authentic emotions more readily. It’s a gift and a curse I suppose.
PRO TIP: I’ve had a few female clients tell me they have RBF – hilarious as it sounds it’s a real thing we’re aware of. They were a little self-conscious about it because they didn’t want to be perceived as being mean or upset in their photos. Like I said, the antidote is smiling and smile they did. The best tip I can give about combating RBF for photos is to always have the corners of your lips curled up so even if you have a relaxed expression on your face, it’s still perceived as “happy.” Happy Days.
So, do you have RBF or are you a perpetual smiler? Let me know in the comments.
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