I Miss the Smiling

I Miss the Smiling

September 30, 2020, 9:34 pm
Filed under: American, feminism, pandemic, space | Tags: mask, masks, pandemic, recognition, Resting Bitch Face, smile

I’ve been going to this little sandwich shop in my neighborhood lately. It’s got a garden in the back and it’s usually pretty empty so I can take my mask off and write back there fairly easily. I never went pre-covid because it had table service and I didn’t really want a sandwich.

But since I returned to Queens after almost two months away, I’ve been going a couple of times a week. It’s always the same people behind the counter and sometimes they seem to remember me and sometimes not. This last time, it was as if I’d never been there before and it strikes me that with everyone in masks, we are all a lot less recognizable than we used to be. We’re all just these eyes over cloth — and if we change the cloth every day like we should, we look like a different person every day.

I’m used to becoming a regular somewhere. Usually it doesn’t take long. At the tea shop I used to go to, when I first started going there, they recognized me after the first day. When I went in there in mask and hat and sunglasses, after two months, they STILL recognized me. But in this new spot, I’m as much a stranger now as I was five visits ago.

Now, maybe these folks just aren’t that into recognizing people. But also, I think, most new people recognize me by my smile and no one can see that right now. No one can see anyone’s smile. Or rather, we shouldn’t be seeing one another’s smiles in person so much.

But as much as I miss seeing people’s smiles, I also miss being able to flash mine. I feel like I’ve lost access to my main social tool. This is what I use to win people over and historically, it tends to work. But I can’t use it right now and I find it both illuminating and frustrating. The frustrating part is not being able to interact with people the way I’ve always done. I cannot charm strangers the way I’m used to charming them and the illuminating bit is realizing how much of my interaction with people depends on my charming them. I wouldn’t have thought so — but it is, in fact, the case. Without this smile, I have to try other things and that becomes very interesting.

Maybe I could move through the world without charming people. It’s an interesting challenge. The problem is, though, the charm is a way to feel safe — and without people who smile back at me doing my smiling, I don’t know whether I’m in safe territory or hostile. It is a lesson of some kind, I’m sure — though not a pleasant one.

Smiling can be loaded for women. We are told to do it all the time. And some of us do do it all the time. And it can keep us safe.

I’m sure you’ve run into an image or two about stopping telling women to smile. I mean, listen I’m smiley as hell — but even I used to get told to smile by random strangers if I happened to not be smiling for a moment. For many women, wearing a mask has meant a break in the tyranny of being told to smile all the time. If you have what’s (problematically) known a Resting Bitch Face — this moment may be a reprieve.

It feels more complicated for me. I feel sort of hamstrung by the loss of my smiling super power. I feel like I’ve lost the best tool in my arsenal. I recognize that the smiling is a socially constructed skill that helped me get what I want — but I went with that tool because it was the thing that was most likely to get me what I wanted. It would be great if not being able to smile people into my good graces somehow made them more likely to just listen to my ideas — but that is not what’s happening. As a woman in my 40s, I am much more likely to be ignored entirely without the smile. And I do not like it.

I don’t see many people in this new socially distanced world, which is maybe why I seem to need so much more out of my brief interactions with strangers. I didn’t realize how much juice I used to get out of getting people to smile back at me — but I miss that juice as much as I miss seeing my friends and hugging.

Anyway — the woman who failed to recognize me on my way in to that sandwich place wished me a warm and familiar goodbye on my way out that day so I know developing rapport and recognition is possible. It’s just going to take a much longer time without my face in play.

Please, my fellow Americans, wear your masks so I can get back to smiling at people again soon.

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Originally published at http://artiststruggle.wordpress.com on October 1, 2020.

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Theatre Artist, writer, blogger, podcaster, singer, dreamer, hoper

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Emily Davis

Theatre Artist, writer, blogger, podcaster, singer, dreamer, hoper