Why Bitchy Resting Face is a feminist issue
I'm not upset, says Vicki Notaro. I just don't feel like beaming at you right now, and that's okay
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 ten posed shots. But what's perhaps more interesting is what's not present 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 occurs when the female is not really aware of her facial expression or is 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's quite likely that the woman in question is thinking about something quite benign - BRF is not an automatic indication that she's plotting somebody's demise or about to burst in to tears.
Earlier this month, the New York Times discussed the phenomenon under the heading Cultural Studies. Their writer bemoaned the tyranny of her own, declaring it to be "terrifying".
I wouldn't go that far. My BRF isn't very photogenic - hence it not making 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 seen from time to time on television; sometimes when on the panel of TV3's Midday, it appears. Often I'll catch sight of it in the monitor, get a little fright and think, is that how I really look? SImilar to when you hear your voice back on tape.
My BRF is rarely intentional, but it does seem to irk 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 RBF personally, as if my refusal to be visibly joyous is an affront to their eyes. I'm often asked what's wrong when people catch sight of it, but in truth, rarely anything. 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. In 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 a wagon is because of her withering stare?
However, it's not just celebrities who are scrutinised for their BRF. As selfie culture continues to grow and we're judged more and more on our social media presence (or lack thereof), regular women's facial expressions are frequently up for discussion. 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 RBF. 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.