Smiling is worth the toll taken on appearance

“Woman Avoids Smiling for 40 Years to Stop Wrinkles.” I couldn’t help smiling when I read the online headline on msn Lifestyle and I haven’t stopped smiling since.

The Good Housekeeping story, which originally appeared on WomansDay.com, stated Tess Christian, 50, stopped smiling at the age of 10 in order to preserve her face from wrinkling. Side-by-side photos of her first as a teen and now as a middle-aged woman showed a remarkable lack of facial lines.

Christian said she first stopped smiling when the nuns at the strict parochial school she attended during childhood frowned upon smiling. That caused her to substitute a smirk. Eventually, she taught herself to stop smiling altogether, no matter how joyous the occasion.

“My dedication has paid off,” she is quoted as saying. “I don’t have a single line on my face.”

Granted, Christian may have avoided developing laugh lines, but you’ve got to wonder who avoided her due to her Mona Lisa-minus expression? Actually, her mug shot-like photograph looks more like the woman in Grant Wood’s classic painting, “American Gothic,” where the couple pictured have never been mistaken for happy pill poppers.

While we’re on the topic of Grant Wood’s American Gothic, here’s some interesting trivia: while most people think the painting depicts a farm husband and wife, it’s actually a father with spinster (for obvious reasons) daughter. Wood had his sister and his dentist pose as models. Sheds a weirdly incestuous light on things, doesn’t it, for you couples who enjoy dressing like the painting people at Halloween costume contests?

Back online, the article highlighting perpetually unsmiling Tess Christian also features commentary from psychologist Amanda Hills, who addresses the situation biologically and socially. According to Hills, a resting, emotionless face doesn’t send the brain signals that its owner is happy. She adds that an expression constantly conveying misery might actually thwart potential socializing opportunities, adding up to real, not just visually-suggested misery.

I can relate to being un-smiley. It’s not something I set out to do, as in tell myself to stop smiling. I naturally have either a scowling or an expressionless look, especially when I am concentrating.

When my kids were small, they used to come up and ask me what I was mad about or what was wrong. When they interrupted my thoughts, I would blurt my musings in a way that always sounded random, for instance, “Vermicelli or spaghetti noodles.” It had the net result of making the kids think I was angry with pasta in general. Odd exchange.

The upside is I can do killer sarcasm and only highly perceptive people get my deadpan humor. The downside is that an unsmiling face is not an attractive one. Unless I surrender to plastic surgery, my negative expression is just something I’m going to have to continue to live with. I have heard many comments, most recently from the Secretary of State Office’s picture-taker (after about 17 re-takes of my driver’s license photo) that I am not terribly “photogenic.”

The opposite is true. I am TERRIBLY photogenic. That’s just it. To say I am not photogenic is akin to someone blaming a dress for making her look fat. My not having attractive qualities that can be captured by a camera has about as much to do with the camera or the day as the dress has to do with the wearer’s weight gain. We are what we are.

Fortunately, my lack of photo worthiness is genetic and not the result of conscious non-smiling. While imperfect, my smile is capable of redeeming the rest of the mess. If I didn’t think so much, I am sure I would smile more. But contrary to popular belief, I am rather thought-prone.

Tess Christian seemed quite satisfied with her non-smiling expression. “Yes, I am vain and want to remain youthful,” she admitted. “My strategy is more natural than Botox and more effective than any expensive beauty cream or facial.” And she claims to love life.

Oh yeah? Tell that to the animals and small children you frighten away with your unnaturally unlined face and scowl. Better still, if you’re happy and you know it, tell your face!

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