Why Do We Want Women to Smile?



no smile, looking up

While scrolling through Instagram one night, my husband saw a post from a singer he follows, Sara Phillips. He saw that she was selling new shirts and a face mask. The mask said “Don’t ask me to smile.” He showed me, and I said, “Oh, I need that mask.” He was confused at my excitement.

I told him many women are often told to smile even when they don’t want to. But to appease the person they smile and mask what they are feeling. This is like being told a woman’s emotions are not relevant.

He legitimately looked shocked, and he asked why anyone would one say that to someone they did not know personally. I told him I didn’t have the answer. I proceeded to call my oldest daughter to see if she had ever been told the same. I was hesitant to find out her response, but I wanted my husband to see just how much of an issue this was.

Women are often told to force a smile even when they don't feel like it.I showed her the mask and she was excited, too. She said, “I need that for when boys or teachers tell me to smile.”

At this point, my husband was just a little angry, so I decided to push a little further and ask our youngest daughter, who is nine.  

She said other people have told her to smile when she looked sad or if she didn’t have a facial expression at the time. The shocking realization hit my husband because he didn’t realize this was a thing that was happening, let alone to his two daughters. I told him that I am guilty of this act as well.

I have forced myself to smile when I didn’t want to, and I have even told my daughters to smile in public if they were sad. The wording on this mask opened a conversation that I didn’t realize needed to happen.

The mask with those words helped me to remind my daughters that though many in society want you to smile because it is what makes them comfortable, it does not give them the right to choose your facial expressions.

Children with anxiety do well with routine.I am guilty of doing this, I have occasionally been told I have a face that makes me look angry, and if I would just smile it would help. I have also been told, “Smile, you would look so much prettier if you smiled.” Growing up hearing this from various people, I never realized just how much I was willing to change my outward appearance to appease those around me.

I wanted to make it clear to my daughters and to my son that this behavior is not okay, that you have a right to feel how you want to feel, and that masking your emotions to make someone else feel comfortable is not okay.

I wonder how many women have been told this same thing. Ask your daughters if they have ever encountered moments like these. I would love to know their response. This is a conversation that needed to happen, and it shined a light on just one of the many things girls and women are told about their appearance.


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