This article was originally published on Unwritten.
“Damn girl, you’re so pretty.” I sit alone wearing a cropped t-shirt under a cami tucked into a black denim mini skirt a la 90’s The Craft style. I cross my legs, my thick tights make a sound when they rub against my skin. “Do you have a boyfriend? You’re way too pretty to be single.” I drink my latte, it’s boiling hot, just how I like it. I feel like the mother of dragons; I don’t run from fire but rather I am made from it. I set it down and resume pouring over my economics notes.
“Hey, sweetheart.” I look down at the rim of my cup. My red lip stains look like blood. I’ve marked my territory. “Let me see your pretty smile. Cmon, just smile, gorgeous.“ I set my pen down and debate if serving 25 to life would be worth it just so I would never have to hear this again.
Ever since I was 12, grown men (almost always strangers) have approached me demanding I smile for them. When I was young, I would oblige half out of fear and half out of what I call “feminine performance.” From the time we are able to walk, girls are taught that femininity is a performance. Check your hair, check your makeup, smile, take up less space, talk less, and smile more. We must constantly perform for an audience until the director shouts CUT; which won’t be until we’re wrinkled and grey and society has told us that we’re no longer valuable. We are groomed to be the perfect actors, our smiles are our greatest asset. How many times have people hurt you, invaded your personal space and your default reaction is to smile while mumbling a half-assed “it’s okay!”
As I grew older, I developed a resting bitch face that many people (especially men) have looked at as a challenge. Why won’t the pretty girl smile for me? It’s as if my beauty is owed to them; it’s the rent I must pay in this world. They don’t ask me to smile for myself, (heaven forbid I’m going through one of my daily existential crises and need a moment to collect myself) they ask me so that I may be more appealing to them.
My “RBF” has actually become an act of defiance in a way. My refusal to bow to the pressures of femininity, my refusal to be seen as “accessible…” My furrowed brow carries the weight of the women in my family who were brave enough to shout “no” and mean it. It is also for the countless scores of women who had to smile and bat their eyelashes through abuse.
Stop asking women to smile. We don’t owe you anything, not our beauty, not our time, not a smile, not even a passing glance. Allow us to be perfectly imperfect. Allow us to express more than just the default setting of “pretty.” Let us be human, that’s all we’ve ever asked for.