Editorial: “You should smile more”

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I was minding my own business as my church’s Christmas Eve service wrapped up when a fellow church member approached me.

“Merry Christmas,” he said, giving me a hug. With one final look, he added “and smile more, it looks good on you.”

My face immediately dropped, and the small smile I had previously worked up specifically for that encounter had faltered. I walked back to my parents’ car feeling dejected.

This was far from the first time I’ve been told to “smile” by someone I hardly know. But for some reason, this time I was just more bothered than usual.

The comment was harmless enough, I suppose. In terms of “insulting things you can say to someone” this is probably pretty low on the list.

But it’s actually quite annoying when a stranger suggests that your face isn’t up to their standards. If I’m going about my business, please don’t ask me to smile.

If I’m just standing in the corner at church, ordering food at a restaurant or standing in line at the store, smiling usually isn’t typically my natural facial expression.

When my face is in a neutral expression, that doesn’t mean I’m mad or sad. It’s literally just my face, and it’s insulting when someone suggests that I’d become more attractive or likeable if I smiled at them.

It’s actually quite annoying when a stranger suggests that your face isn’t up to their standards.

Every time someone has told me to smile, I get the sense that they feel like they’re doing me a favour.

I can understand that some people probably don’t say this with any sort of bad intent, but despite this it still feels invasive and inappropriate to be told to smile more — especially when the person telling you is practically a stranger.

Even if a comment like that wasn’t mildly rude (which it is), I’m not quite sure why people feel as though they need to tell others how to emotionally respond to things.

I’ve never been told to “smile more” by anyone who actually knows me well, probably because anyone who knows me knows that I’m a pretty content person, and getting me to smile is not that hard.

So, to the strangers who ask me to “smile” — why are those the first words that you feel you need to tell me? Why is it so important that I smile at you in the fleeting moments that we encountered each other?

To be fair, sometimes I am just angry. Maybe someone saw me frowning and decided to misguidedly cheer me up by telling me to smile.

Even in that case, I don’t have to smile. I’m entitled to express my emotions, and if I do that by frowning then so be it. Smiling is not my default emotion — it’s probably not most peoples’ default emotion.

From now on, the only person who I’m authorizing to tell me to smile is the person who is taking my graduation photos. If you give me a reason to smile then maybe I will, but other than that I could go without the input.

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