Twice in the past week I have taken photos of myself that I have been really proud of. I hesitated to share either. Why? Because I wasn’t smiling.
That’s it. The lighting was great, I felt sexy, the poses were flattering, but I had a serious look on my face in both images. Obviously models in photographs often don’t smile, but it wasn’t about the art for me. It was about how I felt about myself. As most girls, I was told to smile, all of the time. I was told this so often, that I began to feel ugly if I wasn’t smiling. Into my teenage years and adulthood, strangers — men mostly, would tell me to smile. “It’s not so bad” a random customer would say while I was concentrating on a problem at work. “You are so much prettier when you smile” is something I have heard so many times in my life I couldn’t begin to count.
I realized recently that I still feel this way! I was instantly flagging images for removal based on the fact that I didn’t have a grin plastered on my face.
I felt bold last week and posted one on Day 109 of my photo project. I wasn’t smiling, in fact, I look really serious, but I felt so SEXY and powerful that I felt it made up for that.
Still, I hesitated to share this image until today. For no other reason than the lack of smile. Seriously. Who the fuck smiles all of the time? The surfacing of the “Resting Bitch Face” didn’t help matters much for me. As someone who apparently looks like she’s trying to blow your head up with her mind if she isn’t grinning like a clown, and I must, given the way people have responded to me my entire life. So now I am well aware of looking like a “bitch” if I am not smiling.
Most of the jobs I have had required me to smile — customer service, bartending, stylist, photographer, etc. I have always been good at faking a smile and friendliness, as my income depended on it. But again I ask, who the fuck smiles all of the time? Does everyone get harassed if they don’t look like they are actively auditioning for a toothpaste commercial? What gives?
I will be 37 this fall. I realize I no longer want to feel the need to smile to appease the general population, so I am embracing that.
It makes me feel feminine, strong, powerful, capable, sexy, desirable and empowered. The lack of a smile doesn’t change that.
Nikki is a photographer, writer, artist, and advocate of radical self-love. She writes about mental health, gaming, sex, and inclusivity.