Vicki Notaro: Why Bitchy Resting Face is a feminist issue
I'm not angry, says our reporter, I just don't feel like smiling
Published 02/09/2015 | 02:30
A quick scan through my tagged photos on Facebook tells me several things about my face.
The iPhone front camera is not kind to my nose, for example. When in doubt, I pout (and inexplicably throw up a peace sign) because it gives the appearance of cheekbones, and it's what all the young ones are at these days.
Beaming smiles make for the best pictures and a good candid is worth 10 posed shots. But what's more interesting is what's not evident in these photos, the pictures that allegedly sum up my recent life. And that's my Bitchy Resting Face.
The BRF (also sometimes known as Resting Bitch Face) refers to the feminine face in repose, when features are slightly slack, eyes blank and the mouth resting in what could be construed as a sneer. It happens when you're not really aware of your facial expression or are simply choosing not to think about it, perhaps a rare occurrence in a world where we're always "on".
This is not a brow furrowed in thought or concentration; it's more of a blank stare that to the beholder implies sadness or annoyance. However, it might just be that the woman in question is thinking about something benign, rather than plotting somebody's demise or about to burst in to tears.
Recently the New York Times discussed the phenomenon under the heading 'Cultural Studies'. Their writer bemoaned the tyranny of her own, declaring it "terrifying".
I wouldn't go that far. My BRF isn't photogenic - hence it not making an appearance online. It is, as the name implies, quite bitchy and also very unflattering, so it's not likely I'll ever want to keep a rare photo captured of it on my social network. It has been spotted from time to time on television; sometimes when on the panel of TV3's Midday, it appears. I'll catch sight of it in the monitor, get a little fright and think, is that how I really look? It's like hearing your voice back on tape.
My BRF is rarely intentional, but it annoys people. I'm not trying to scowl or look miserable, but sometimes I'm just not concerned with plastering on a happy face or being overly emotive. The problem is, other people take my BRF personally, as if my refusal to be visibly joyous is an affront to their eyes. I'm often asked what's wrong, but in truth, it's just my face. Chances are, if I'm making a bitchy face at you, you'll know all about it.
We all have a BRF, although some people's are more prevalent and discussed than others. Victoria Beckham's BRF has been her calling card through a long career. When she was a popstar it was what made her look "posh", as if being facially restrained is a sign of great wealth and dignified membership of the upper classes. But as Victoria grew more famous and ubiquitous, people often took great issue with her lack of desire to beam on the red carpet.
My own grandmother took a dislike to her, calling her "that wan that never smiles". VB has a lot to be thankful for of course, a gorgeous family, handsome husband and mega successful career. People want her to look happy in order to prove she's thrilled with her lot, and they take issue when she doesn't comply.
Actress Kristen Stewart is another one famed for her BRF in public. Sleepy-eyed and mussed up, her look is casually sexy and intriguing to many, but others just want her to be bright eyed and bushy tailed like say, Taylor Swift or Jennifer Lawrence. Her refusal to comply with this red-carpet etiquette has seen Stewart deemed moany and irritating. However she herself has spoken of her deep discomfort in the public arena, particularly in front of a wall of photographers. Of course, it's part and parcel of a career in the public eye, but that doesn't mean she has to fake a megawatt grin each and every time.
As a society, we like our celebrities to be happy-go-lucky. The most popular gals are often the ones with the deepest dimples like Cheryl Fernandez-Versini and Miranda Kerr. Smizing, or smiling with your eyes, works too - Kim Kardashian and Beyonce are experts at conveying happiness in a photo without actually beaming. Sheryl Sandberg even says that women should smile more to get ahead at work.
By comparison, how many times have you heard somebody giving out about Keira Knightley or Rooney Mara for their cool, unaffected stares? Isn't it true that one of the big reasons Anna Wintour is universally mythologised as terrifying is because of her withering stare?
It's not just celebrities under attack for the BRFs. As selfie culture evolves and we're judged more and more on our social media presence (or lack thereof), women's facial expressions are a frequent topic of debate. Many bemoan the pouting "duck face" seen in profile pictures across the land (my own included), and others post them ironically.
I've often wondered about my expression in the photo on my Twitter account - should I replace it with something more professional, and less widely derided? But then I remember that this is Twitter and there's nothing wrong with my bloody duck face. My LinkedIn has a very professional (and smiley) headshot, because that's the place one expects to be judged. But a duck face profile shot is still far more acceptable than one featuring my BRF. I don't think I'd have any followers at all if my avatar featured that bad boy.
To me, the BRF is a feminist issue. You don't hear anybody wondering if a man is unhappy if his face isn't joyous, or thinking less of him for being stoic. In fact for guys, it's almost expected to be expressionless, a signifier of machismo and mystery.
I am perhaps too vain to allow my BRF to dominate my online life but only because, as I said, it's very unflattering to my chins. But I'm of the attitude that it's my face, and I'll do what I want with it. Or maybe I'm just a bitch.
Face values: Famous for their frosty expressions
The Mona Lisa
The enigmatic subject of Da Vinci's masterpiece didn't feel the need to grin for the master painter, and she's all the more famous and well-loved for it.
In a time when screen sirens were meant to smile and look pretty, Vivien's pout stood out a mile. Made iconic by Scarlett O'Hara (right) in Gone With The Wind, it was her trademark.
VB's scowl, left, has been much derided, but let's be honest, we'd be freaked out if she suddenly started beaming.
FLOTUS has a beautiful smile, but she only reveals it on her own terms. The rest of the time, you can just deal with her expression.
The actress, right, is often called sullen, but she's actually just pretty awkward. However, her BRF is still very pretty.
Famous for her strong brows, the strong arches emphasise Cara's BRF even more.
The exception to the rule of the BRF only affecting women, Yeezy, left, is the man regularly mocked for his blank stare. However, it only makes you appreciate his megawatt grin when he chooses to whip it out.