Apologia for my face

Tags: personal

I was perusing the #NoWomanEver hashtag on Twitter this morning, and I noticed a bunch of tweets about the irritation of being told to smile. My own habit is to ignore such comments as much as possible because I am not that interested in what randos think of my facial expression.

However, there is a related thing that happens to me a lot that I have a harder time ignoring, especially when it comes from men I know and work with.

Why are you upset?

I guess I have Resting Upset Face. Let’s call it that. If my emotional state is quite neutral but I am not actively smiling, I guess I look upset? I don’t look upset to me, so I don’t really know.

It’s harder to ignore than the “come on, smile!” sorts of comments, for me anyway, for a few reasons. For one thing, it assumes I am upset when I’m probably not, which is sort of annoying (I will cop to being easily annoyed) and now I need to combat the feeling of annoyance.

Since it usually comes from men I have to interact with over some period of time (not just co-workers, though; men who were at my tables when I was a waitress would sometimes ask me this), I need to come up with some response. The easiest is, “I’m not upset,” which has the benefit of usually being true, but the fact that I’m fighting the mildly annoyed feeling now means it often sounds false.

Sometimes the truthful response is:

  • I’m thinking about Kant, which would upset anyone, but I’d rather not try to explain it to you.
  • I’m thinking about that $%@^& letter I got from my insurance company, and this is an inappropriate time/place to talk about it.
  • Someone in my family died/was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer/had surgery a short time ago but I would not like to talk about it with you, and I do not want to hear your, “It’ll be OK, cheer up!” at this time.
  • I am finding my clothing or something else in my physical environment uncomfortable right at this moment but it’s not really worth talking about.
  • Is this an aura or my normal vertigo? Should I go take my migraine pill now to head it off or should I just stand here and let it pass? Why does this happen, that I suddenly feel like I’m falling?
  • I have synesthesia and you just said a word that puts a very unpleasant taste in my mouth. In no way is that your fault, but you will think I’m a freak if I try to explain it to you and we should just let it pass.
  • You have been talking at length about people/things I do not know and I would prefer that we talked about something I know/am interested in, so I could participate in the conversation rather than be monologued at, but I don’t like to be rude and it would be rude of me to tell you this so please don’t make me say it.
  • You did, in fact, say something a moment ago that annoyed or frustrated or angered or saddened me but for [reasons] I’d rather not talk about it and just let it go. That thing where you asked me, “are you the pieman?” a minute ago – sort of annoying, and I regret that it showed, but it doesn’t need to turn into a fight.
  • I’d rather be left to think about any of those things in peace rather than answer your questions about my face.

Other than the synesthesia and the migraine/vertigo, I think these are normal things to cause momentary upset, are they not? Are these not part of everyone’s life, from time to time causing signs of unexplained sadness or annoyance or frustration to pass over someone’s face? Is it a fault that I allow signs of these normal feelings to occasionally pass over my face? Because now your question has indicated that it’s weird that any of those things might be showing on my face. Is it weird?

Is there something wrong with me? Or my face?

If it’s an ongoing relationship, such as at work, it’s even harder to ignore because it happens a lot. The question demands an answer; my face requires an explanation.

So, now, whatever I was thinking about, now I am thinking about my face and whether or not I’m upset and whether that sense of being upset is valid by your standards or something I want to disclose to you. That former train of thought has been quite disrupted. If it was Kant I was thinking about, then it’s just as well anyway, but otherwise I now feel like a character from Harrison Bergeron, only instead of beeping in my ears to disrupt thought, some governmental agency has skillfully deployed agents to make me think about my face instead of anything more interesting.

My baseline emotional state is one of mild contentment. Even when I comment on something being annoying, I am usually not feeling annoyed when I do it because I find it unpleasant and unhelpful to live my life in a state of constant annoyance or sadness or irritation or anger. Most things I brush off easily and quickly, when I’m allowed to stop thinking about them. I do not stay angry long. I do not hold grudges. I usually do not dwell on past misfortunes, though obviously some have had lasting effects whether I’ve wanted them to or not.

Annoying and angering things happen all the time if you let yourself think about it for a minute, but so do good and beautiful things, and I’d rather think about those. So, quite often, if you have genuinely seen some sadness or anger flash across my face, give me a minute of peace and I’ll start thinking about the good and beautiful things again and it will pass and be forgotten. Anger that is allowed to pass away naturally doesn’t cause any hurt to anyone.

I keep saying “men ask,” but I don’t know that there is a sexist element here. Men are the only ones who have ever asked me this, but I don’t know whether people ask men with Resting Upset Face if they are upset all the time. I look forward to men weighing in with their tales of irritation. I suspect that women get asked this more because there’s an assumption that women are hyperemotional in a way that men aren’t (snorts) so if she’s not smiling, she must be upset and not just neutral or thinking about Kant. I think it ties into the stereotype that women will say, “I’m fine” as a passive-aggressive way to annoy men rather than that it might be true or might be code for, “For possibly totally appropriate reasons, I don’t want to talk about it and would rather let it pass, thank you.”

Not everything that can be said needs to be said. It sometimes leads to hurt and bad feelings, especially when it’s spoken in that immediate moment of anger or irritation. Because my husband and I both have this attitude, we, in fact, rarely fight. We might sometimes get to where we are barely talking at all to each other, which is an extreme that isn’t good either, but we rarely fight, and eventually we say the things that need to be said and leave the things that didn’t need to be said behind us.


Nobody was upset in the writing of this except my little dog because she had been sleeping on my arm, but it was interfering with my typing, so I rudely removed her.

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