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I have one thing in common with Cara Delevingne, and it's not a light hand with the Tweezers. She and I both tend to look like we've just been handling moldy leftovers wrapped in tin foil with Justin Bieber's face printed on it. In other words, unless I'm laughing or crying, I'm scowling, even when my thoughts are pleasant.
Unless I'm laughing or crying, I'm scowling, even when my thoughts are pleasant.
In fourth grade, I was voted something along the lines of most likely to complain. I've blocked out the details of how I earned such a dubious title, but I think my expression had more to do with it than the words that came out of my mouth. And my parents were always telling my teenage self to wipe "that look" off my face. Sure, sometimes I was silently cursing how unfair they were being about my right to wear backless crop tops, but mainly I was thinking normal adolescent thoughts that were no more sour than anyone else's.
My bitchy resting face came with me to New York City, which worked sort of like a rock polisher to give my hard expression a more noticeable glint. I moved there in my mid 20s to work in magazine publishing, a field that seemed divisible into two basic employee types. There were the relentlessly cheerful Tracy Flicks who, if you emailed them to ask whether they could burn down the building by the end of the workday would reply with, "ON IT!!!" and maybe even a "thanks for thinking of me." And then there were the sardonic Daria Morgendorffers who populated my tribe and were inclined to reply to requests with a Bartleby-esque "I would prefer not to." (Some women could toggle between both, and they're the holy grail of editors. But I'm too lazy or stubborn or maybe just too unimaginative to fake enthusiasm.)
In the same way that I suspect that untroubled people have radiantly clear skin, I figure my inner seriousness matches the drapes, so to speak. I'm by no means a goth, but I'm likelier to use a period than an exclamation mark, and I quit cheerleading tryouts and the sorority rush process after less than a day. Instead of starting out as an intern, a position that requires you to cement a smile on your face while ferrying green juice and sushi through slush and then Hanky Panky-soaking heat, I started off reading short fiction submissions at a Very Serious Literary Journal.
Not trying to turn my frown upside-down seemed to prompt my superiors to take me seriously once I graduated to copy editor at a women's magazine. When I walked into their offices with marked-up drafts, their faces clearly said, "I will stab you with my razor-like cheekbones if your intrusion makes me miss this flash sale." But their expressions were always met by my equally fierce one, and since I could hold mine forever because it came naturally, standoffs tended to end with me finally being invited to sit down and explain missing modifiers and the (yes, I'm sure) lack of an accent over the "e" in latte.
Not trying to turn my frown upside-down seemed to prompt my superiors to take me seriously.
Bitchy resting face has been a boon outside of the office too. Sure, it seems to compel a certain type of man on the street to implore me to smile. And I've been accused of giving people nasty looks when in fact I'm fantasizing about muffins or whether you could knit a scarf out of terrier fur. But looking stern has helped me get refunds and upgrades. It's kept precocious children and fellow subway passengers from engaging with me. And no one has ever asked me to help them jumpstart their car or hold their (surely illicit Thai drug-filled) bag while they "run outside to have a smoke."
A couple of months ago, after my husband and I waited 45 minutes past our reservation time for a window seat at a waterfront restaurant, our waitress sat us at a window-overlooking the parking lot. "I can tell that you're not happy with this table," she said. I hadn't uttered a word, but my face had apparently spoken for me. Without waiting for an answer, she moved us to a primo table on a dais and brought us shrimp cocktail, clam chowder and, later, some sort of white chocolate-Grand Marnier abomination, all on the house. I'd brought this embarrassment of riches on myself, but what was the alternative?
I have angel-faced friends, and people are always giving them free croissants with their coffee and exclaiming that they're such sweethearts. They're also, however, constantly subjecting them to overly long hugs and, worst of all, endless small talk.
On a recent ski trip, my friend and I caught a shuttle from the hotel back to the airport. We were both exhausted and borderline carsick, but the driver took my friend's naturally beatific countenance to mean she was interested in hearing about how he used to manage a small chain of grocery stores in Alaska. I, however, blissfully discharged from the duties of Woman Happy to Hear Yarns, turned my bitch face toward the seat back, closed my bitch eyes, and let my bitch jaw go slack while I napped all the way to the terminal.