This has probably happened to most of us before: You’re going about your day, minding your own business, when a complete stranger comes up to you and says “Smile!” or something along the lines of “Life isn’t that bad, honey! You should smile!” and walks away. What just happened? Well, let me tell you this, it’s happened to me at least a dozen times in my life. And every time it does, it makes me pretty angry.
Does anyone know what I’m talking about, here? What’s with the need to command women to smile?
A perfect example of this would be Kristen Stewart (or Victoria Beckham). She usually stands out a bit on the red carpet because she doesn’t have a smile plastered to her face and let’s be honest, most of the time she just looks uncomfortable.
When asked about her red-carpet experience, Kristen replies:
People say that I’m miserable all the time. It’s not that I’m miserable, it’s just that somebody’s yelling at me… I literally, sometimes, have to keep myself from crying… It’s a physical reaction to the energy that’s thrown at you.
Why do we have a problem with someone who doesn’t smile at red carpet events or when the paparazzi is following her everywhere, urging her to smile and act a certain way? Why does she have to show us (with her teeth) that she is thrilled to be reduced to a presence in a designer dress or someone who is being stalked while she’s out at a restaurant? And why is this body policing being enforced on other women, as well?
An excerpt from this article hits the nail right on the head:
The obvious problem is that the shitty smile stranger knows nothing about you or what might have just happened to you. Secondly, being strangers, their intentions can never be genuine worry about your unhappiness. Thirdly, since when has demanding an unhappy person to smile ever made them suddenly stop being unhappy? So I must question — why? And why do men, specifically, feel they have the right to tell women to smile. Why do they expect women to do what they want them to, just because they said so. The smile benefits them, they can see it, not us. It’s not for our benefit — so it must be for theirs.
After having a little discussion with some girlfriends about the subject, it was pretty interesting what each of them had to say. Although all of them seemed to share the same “I hate it too!” sentiments, one of them asked me, “Well, does it make you mad when someone holds open the door for you?”
I said not at all, and here’s why: holding open doors, or other acts of kindness towards strangers benefits the stranger. I hold open doors for people (men, women, children) all the time. Telling someone to smile (while the smile police may not realize it) is an attempt to control another person’s body and emotions. It’s a pretty different ballgame. Telling women to smile is, at best, thoughtless. At worst, it’s harassment and intimidation. Remember the guys that called me a bitch after I walked by and refused to give them the time of day and smile? Who knows what would have happened if I hadn’t walked away. There have also been other occasions where I was harassed by the Smile Police, and managed to show off a smile quite similar to this one:
I’m not saying that all men that tell women to smile know what they’re doing. Heck, there are even women that tell other women to smile. One of my guy friends told me once that he thought it was a way of telling a girl that she looked pretty when she smiled, so she should smile more. He seemed pretty surprised when I explained to him how many of us actually really hate it and why we hate it. He wasn’t out to control women; he had no idea what it really meant and how most women receive it.
Retired Smile Police officer Damon Young explains:
I’d actually done that a couple times before myself, and each time I thought the request was playful and innocuous. It’s just that, when presuming that nothing could possibly be that bad in an attractive woman’s life that she dare not smile, you are dehumanizing them. It’s a “nice” form of dehumanization, but it’s still dehumanization nonetheless. It’s also transparent. You don’t see men running up to homeless women and the elderly and asking them to smile. The request is usually made when the requester thinks the requestee is attractive. It’s not about a legitimate need for women to be happy as much as it’s that smiling/pleasant-looking women are easier on the eyes and more inviting to approach. It’s really not about the woman at all.
So Smile Police, I suggest trading your caveman requests in for funny jokes, banana peels or even funny faces. Who knows, maybe you’ll get women to smile. But then again, you never know because you can’t control them. … And that’s kind of the point.
What do you think about this, Lovelies? Has a complete stranger ever told you to smile? How did you react? Have you ever thought about the “Smile!” command like this before?