Smile, Sweetheart

There is one person in my life who never fails to surprise me. Every so often we will be in the middle of a conversation, like, an actual conversation about one of the issues that impacts us as union leaders, when out of the blue he’ll say:

“Smile, Sweetheart.”

The first time he said it, I thought he was kidding, but I wasn’t sure. I gave him one of those tight-lipped smiles where there’s a surprising amount of teeth showing disproportionately to the dead-eyed look just above.

“No, a real smile.”

He was onto me.

It’s been years. I still have no idea how to handle this sort of thing. I mean, here we are, two completely intelligent people with genuine, real life responsibilities, and he pops out with that from time to time. The audacity astounds me. My feminist training suggests that I should correct him in such a way as to leave no ambiguity about how sexist that comment is. But while I am a die hard feminist, sometimes black and white advice is not practical. I need to continue to have a relationship with him and telling him to eff off, which my instinct is screaming to do, is not realistically going to maintain a long-term relationship with him.

This, THIS, is the reason women have become so skilled at using a giggle to cover a horrifying and demeaning comment. If we didn’t give a little giggle and maybe a playful little “oh you” swat, our jab-jab-hook would get us arrested for assault.

I have no idea why he does it. It’s like a sucker punch every time. Except I can’t get him arrested for assault.

Smiling is an interesting part of charm. So while I would very much like to plaster a scowl across my face just to keep men like him in their place, that doesn’t really meet my goal, which is to be more charming, not less. To say this is a battle in my soul would not be strong enough. I would like, very much, to be able to put charm aside, speak my mind, which I assure you is highly uncharming in situations like this, and come through unscathed.

Thank goodness I have a blog.

Even with sunglasses, I bet you can tell if this smile is fake or real.

I completely understand the power of a genuine smile. As a long time student of charm and charisma, I have been watching people for years get away with stuff so heinous and immoral, I can’t imagine how this impossible outcome has been achieved. And yet it has. Time after time, a smile unlocks doors to angry hearts, well-trained gatekeepers, and achievements of unspeakable proportions.

So how do you create a smile?

There are really two types of smiles: real and fake. Most people are completely able to sense a real smile versus a manufactured smile in 1/6 of a second thanks to our very primitive survival brains. A huge lesson in this is that you should always trust your gut when it comes to trying to decipher a smile. A real one will resonate with your senses. A fake one will put you on edge.

To help you better understand what a real smile is versus a fake smile, you need to know what you’re looking for so you can spot the real smile.

The common piece to both types of smiles is that your lips draw back, sometimes exposing some teeth, and your cheeks get more full. In a real smile, your bottom teeth disappear, and in a selfie smile, they are often present. The camera lens appears, an automatic smile appears on the lower part of your face. Lovely. Aren’t we just photogenic?

The biggest missing element is that while you can plaster on a fake selfie smile, your eyes don’t get the memo and you really are only smiling from the cheeks down which is how those bottom teeth manage to get into the smile. If you want a real smile, your eyes need to crinkle. Those wrinkles we call “crows feet” hopefully appeared mostly by smiling. (You can also get them by having an incredulous “what?!” look on your face, but let’s leave that for another blog post, shall we?)

The last element is what happened when your crows’ feet crinkle appeared, which is that your eyes scrunched shut. Partly it’s that your cheeks squished your eyes and partly it’s because a real smile actually engages your eye muscles. That pull from your eye muscles, combined with the stretch from your lip and cheek muscles, creates a whole map work of crinkles, squished eyes, top teeth, and fat cheeks.

Yeah. When I put it like that, it’s just not very attractive, is it? And yet, it is not only attractive, it’s a whole survival mechanism. Our ability to smile is what allows us to “find our people” and to survive in situations where our survival was not guaranteed.

This week, I have a helpful challenge tip for you if you are an unrepentant selfie-taker. It’s one I use when I am taking photos to get better selfies. Set up your camera to take your shot, but don’t hit click just yet. Instead, just before you snap the picture, close your eyes and picture someone you love laughing. Now open your eyes and take the photo. Smiles from people you love are contagious and it will give you a better smile.

So, smile, sweetheart. Only don’t do it in the sexist, irritating way. Do it in a way that increases your charm because it’s genuine.