Saturday, September 05, 2009

Smiles aren't cheap.

When I'm walking by myself in public, I have often been stopped by (older) men who tell me that I need to smile. It's already happened to me twice this week, once by the guy manning the elevators at the Empire State Building (I'm getting my tourist jolleys out before work begins) and on the packed subway on a Friday evening, by a man who I assume is a dock worker, because he was wearing a union shirt. (YEAH THE WIRE!)

"Smile. Life ain't that rough." "Girl, the day's over! Smile!" Sometimes, it's just, "Smile."

When I was working at Starbucks, years ago, I was praised as a fine barista. The one time I was criticized was when the manager talked to me saying that I need to smile more and be cheerful to the customers and ask how they're doing. I didn't know that I wasn't smiling, and all I wanted to do was get the customers their coffee as quickly as they wanted it to be done.

Whenever I'm told to show my pearly whites, I'm always caught by surprise, because the advice implies that I was in a foul mood. I never am, at least, I never am when I'm told to smile. I suppose I look like the crabbiest girl on the street when I'm not conscious about emotions.

I started thinking about how I must look to strangers, and the type of first impression I give off and how unapproachable I must be. (Although, I frankly would not like to be approached by the type of people who feel inclined to tell me that I need to lighten up.) Then, I started thinking about why it's expected that I smile, and realized that it's because I'm a short and unthreatening-looking kind of girl (until the see my biceps), and because I'm meant to be the mascot-like persona that these people like.

It's a little step further than what these men must have meant, but I resent it. First, you would never tell men that they need to smile more. They're allowed to be non-bubbly. They're allowed to be jerks and assholes without a whole lot of repercussion, except money and power. Second, women are expected to be full of emotions, even if they have nothing to be emote about, especially when the sole objective on their mind is to get from point A to point B. Third, smiling takes an extra muscle on your cheeks! It's actually a movement that doesn't need to be repeated when not provoked. There's value to it, and it doesn't need to be whored out.

I'm less emotive than some but I'm not an ice queen. I have been told that I am a personable, likable, but calm person. I cry at some movies, but I hate romance movies, and reading Twilight only left me with a shrug, and an "eh", but Harry Potter Book 6 left me with clammy hands and a block in my throat.

I feel I ration my smiles appropriately, and that it should not be expected, especially if I don't know you, and I don't intend on knowing you. My smiles are saved for the appropriate occasions, and they are appreciated and I appreciate it because of it.


Patrick said...

you look kind of like when you walk around.

Lisa said...

pat- :D

LouieO said...

people in NY telling other people to smile while walking in public? this world is going bananas.

heather said...

i feel you on this one, too!!! (as do many women, i am sure) this happens to me often and it puts me in a bad mood, but only when i let it get to me. i doubt these men (because it is mostly men that say such things) give a second thought to what they are saying, not to mention why they are saying it. but kudos to you for dissecting this small but important gender bias. maybe a simple, polite "no thanks" would suffice the next time a male passerby requests you to flex those facial muscles at him.

great blog, lady! keep it up!