“Why don’t you smile more?”
“You’re so pretty when you smile.”
When I was younger, directors said it to me. Photographers. Bosses. Strangers on the street. My parents still do.
I speak at colleges often. Recently, at Loyola University Chicago’s School of Communications, resting bitch face came up. Lots of people have it. I’m one of them.
I may look like I want to tear you apart, when actually, I’m singing Oh Happy Day in my head.
Those suffering from Resting Bitch Face (aka Bitchy Resting Face) are mostly women. You know someone afflicted with it. They may look vaguely annoyed, judgy and slightly bored.
I talk about resting bitch face when I coach women. It’s important to know if you have one. Especially when you’re interviewing for a job, speaking on stage or doing a media appearance.
Queen Elizabeth, Anna Kendrick, Victoria Beckham and Kanye all have it.
Jason Rogers and Abbe Macbeth, behavioral researchers with international research and innovation firm Noldus Information Technology, decided to investigate: Why are some faces off-putting? What, exactly, makes us register as RBF?
The researchers enlisted Noldus’s FaceReader, a sophisticated tool engineered to identify specific expressions based on a catalogue of more than 10,000 images of human faces. The software, which can examine faces through a live camera, a photograph or a video clip, maps 500 points on the human face, then analyzes the image and assigns an expression based on eight basic human emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, disgust, contempt, and “neutral.”
One particular emotion that helps the reader’s response jump is contempt. The software measures the look of contempt in a face in subtle signals, like “one side of the lip pulled back slightly, the eyes squinting a little,” Rogers explained.
Or: “It’s kind of a tightening around the eyes, and a little bit of raising of the corners of the lips — but not into a smile,” Macbeth suggested.
The cues are understated, yet the machine detects and interprets them the same way our human brains do.
This is important. You may not know it – but your brain detects and interprets what it thinks someone is feeling or saying through their face.
It means – even though one thing is coming out of your mouth… the way your face LOOKS may determine how that person feels about you and what you’re saying.
Here’s the kicker.
Noldus’s FaceReader is software and therefore immune to gender bias. It detected RBF in male and female faces in equal measure. Which means that the idea of RBF as a predominantly female phenomenon has little to do with facial physiology and more to do with social norms.
Have you ever heard anyone tell a man to smile? It’s pretty rare for a man to have resting bitch face.
Smiling is expected from women far more than it’s expected from men.
“… there’s a lot of anecdotal articles and scientific literature on that. So RBF isn’t necessarily something that occurs more in women, but we’re more attuned to notice it in women because women have more pressure on them to be happy and smiley and to get along with others.” Macbeth said.
Worried you may have RBF?
What else could you be doing that you are not aware of right now that’s hurting you in interviews, public speaking and media appearances?
Let me help you. As a media coach and public speaking trainer, I help my clients with these issues.
I’d love to send you free tips like these regularly. Sign up for my media blasts here.