"There was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her... wherever."
These words Donald Trump used to describe Megyn Kelly after she challenged him in the August debate were incredibly offensive. It was unbelievable to me that someone would utter those things about a woman, let alone someone who aspired to be the president. I reviewed other quotes that Trump used to describe Kelly such as "a bimbo" and a "lightweight." And then the coup d'etat: retweeting a post describing her as a bimbo with pictures of a photo shoot she did in 2010.
First, it is 2016. Aren't we more advanced than that yet? Doesn't a woman have the right to be attractive and smart? Doesn't a woman get to decide how she presents herself to the world? While I'm not sure the photo shoot was the best career decision Kelly made, I don't get to judge her and certainly Trump shouldn't get to attack her in this way.
As I've reflected since then, it wasn't that shocking. Every day, we are assaulted by offensive discourse related to women. Recently, I came across an article entitled "Scientists have Discovered what Causes Resting Bitch Face." It was, however, the Washington Post so I had to read it.
It was indeed real. And lest I continue to doubt, I found more articles such as "Resting Bitch Face is Real" on CNN.com.
So if you've been living under a rock, as I apparently was, "Resting Bitch Face" is an unintentional expression on faces that reflects boredom, disdain or contempt. If you're afflicted with this countenance, you're in good company with Queen Elizabeth, Kristen Stewart, Anna Kendrick and Demi Moore.
As I searched the Internet, I was surprised at how many legitimate news organizations devoted an article to it. It was the name of the expression, however, that got to me. "Resting Bitch Face," really?
First, it's a ludicrous name and therefore I will be using the acronym, RBF, as much as possible. Secondly, it's disturbing. In the articles, there were passing references to one male that had RBF, Kanye West. It seemed all the authors felt they had done their duty and were free of perpetuating sexism by citing West. Some articles mentioned toward the end that RBF wasn't limited to females and yet, let's look at the name a little closer. By using the word "bitch," the description automatically has a female connotation since that is one of the dictionary definitions and in our pop culture, bitch is almost exclusively used to describe women. Clearly, it doesn't have a positive association.
Next question. Why is it okay to designate women with this moniker?
The only interesting tidbit I got out of the articles was that Anna Kendrick felt that her career had been affected by her RBF expression. She said that as a young actress, people would tell her that she looked unhappy and urged her to look happier. They urged her to smile more and it was quite disconcerting to her.
This resonated with me. Until recently, I had always been told I had a happy, enthusiastic countenance. It was part of my nature I figured and after my first job at Disney back when I was 16, that positive presentation to the public was in my veins. I didn't think much of it until a manager at a company started saying something different.
This occurred recently and I wonder if it's related to my age. I'm getting older but I thought, "Surely, my face can't have changed that much. Surely, my smile is still sunny..." I started to wonder if these comments were code for "You don't look youthful enough." After all, the manager who said it was an appearance-obsessed manager who said I needed to be "peppier" and have "more energy."
Regardless, one's face and one's smiles should be proprietary. Unless we are being absolutely miserable or nasty in a public relations position, shouldn't we have the right to regulate our expressions and faces?
The idea that women could be identified with "Resting Bitch Face" and that it was considered a malady is concerning to me. The fact that sites with thousands of views are devoted to this "facial type" is also worrisome.
How women are portrayed in popular culture has always been a thorny issue. With the Internet's power in our lives, the issue of women and their appearance has become even more of a hot button issue. With a few computer strokes, tons of sites popped up about RBF, plastic surgery, celebrities and their plastic surgery triumphs or disasters. One that caught my eye was "53 Celebrities who Completely Ruined their Faces."
In fact, two celebrities that have been vilified recently in the media for their faces were Carrie Fisher and Meg Ryan. Two of America's sweethearts. Ahhh, how fickle you are, America.
Once upon a time, that was called bullying. It was considered poor taste to denigrate someone's looks but now it's a recreational sport.
I have to admire how they both responded. Meg Ryan said in an interview that she was tired of all the comments on her face and that there are "more important conversations." And Carrie Fisher, with her typical moxie, let loose with these quotations: "My body has not aged as well as I have" and "My body is my brain bag. It hauls me around to those places and in front of faces where there's something to say or see." And the ultimate from Fisher: "Youth and Beauty are not accomplishments. They're the temporary happy byproducts of time and/or DNA."
These quotations point to some valid wisdom. We need to have the "important conversations." We need to recognize that aging happens but that aging isn't just about the exterior. We should value our brains and not just the vessel that carries our brains. While we can appreciate youth and beauty, they are fleeting. They are not accomplishments.
Beyond this wisdom, there is a basic problem with what started me thinking about all this in the first place: Resting Bitch Face. Our faces, our expressions, our smiles, our neutral looks are individual possessions. They are not up for grabs. We have the right to be who we are, without horrific labels to define and limit us, extolling only one kind of look, one kind of beauty.
It makes me think of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and these lines: "And I have known the eyes already, known them all--/The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,/And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,/When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall." Why is it acceptable to do this to women, to "fix them in a formulated phrase?" As Eliot wrote, "Do I dare to disturb the universe?"
As I think of RBF and the other conversations about women, appearances, judgements, fixed ideas of beauty, I think, "Do we dare to disturb the universe?" Let's not accept these demeaning definitions and limitations. Let's not join in with conversations about superficialities. Let's have more of the truly important conversations.
And when issues that are not related to our skills, experience, and abilities are brought up at work and used to disparage us, let's challenge those in authority. Having a "happy face" or a "youthful face" is rarely a bonafide occupational qualification. As for me, I left that company pretty quickly after those comments. I'd rather work for someone who respected what I have to offer. While I will always groom myself professionally and present my "best face forward," I know that I am more than just a face.
Maybe we will evolve a bit as a culture. Maybe the next big thing will be "Resting Benevolent Face," "Resting Contemplative Face," or "Resting Kind Face." Or maybe the next headline will be about what causes people to label others with names like "Resting Bitch Face" or "bimbo." I can dream, right?
Em Powers Hunter is a writer who has been recognized for "Excellence in Commentary" and whose work has appeared in over 45 publications, including the Washington Post, USA Today, and the Christian Science Monitor.