Saturday, February 21, 2015

The end of compulsory smiling for me

If I look at all my Facebook profile images up to a certain point, they all have one thing in common: I am smiling. It was over the last two years that I decided to broaden the range of expressions in my photos, by not deliberately smiling all the time. At first I felt like I was being excessively bold, but I quickly warmed to my new range of neutral expressions. There was freedom in not having to grin from ear to ear at every photo opportunity. After a while, the pressure to 'perform' lifted, and I started smiling only when I wanted to represent genuine happiness.
Women are constantly told to 'smile... you look prettier.' Like there's so many things to smile about: ISIS, the West adding fuel to the fire with every new 'policy', Russia vs Ukraine, Tony Abbott, US Republicans, etc. I'm an engaged citizen, and being engaged means feeling a lot of despair over the way the world is conducting its affairs. Some might have better coping strategies, but that doesn't change how harrowing the world often is for me. A smile doesn't necessarily represent how I feel most of the time. It shouldn't be forced upon me.
I encountered resistance from amongst my Facebook friends: One Peruvian acquaintance left a simple note on my wall with his birthday message: "Smile!" He doesn't know me too well, so I just let it go... but it just goes to show that a smile is part of the package of femininity. "Be kind, be nice, be polite." A smile can show that the woman is going along with men's expectations of her. A smile can signal subservience or passivity. I wanted to make sure that I was being true to myself, not going with the patriarchal flow.
There's something cultural about it as well. Being a "good" European "girl." Being happy with the injustices that have been inflicted on me? No more. I have real pain, and if I want to I will express it. At the very least, I will suppress the urge to smile in my photos out of a duty to seem innocuous and carefree. Ironically, I feel more comfortable with my self-image than ever before. (It could also be an age thing.)

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