“Why do you look so angry? You’d be much prettier if you smiled.” Enter the concept of resting b**ch face. It’s so commonly acknowledged that it was the focus of a recent study. Join Gabe and Lisa in today’s Not Crazy podcast to hear a nuanced discussion of resting b**ch face. Click on the player below to listen now!
Computer Generated Transcript for “Psychology of Facial Expressions” Episode
Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Lisa: You’re listening to Not Crazy, a psych central podcast hosted by my ex-husband, who has bipolar disorder. Together, we created the mental health podcast for people who hate mental health podcasts.
Gabe: Hi, everybody, and welcome to this week’s episode of the Not Crazy Podcast. I’m your host, Gabe Howard. And with me, as always, is my put-upon co-host, Lisa.
Lisa: Well, hello, everyone. And today’s quote is You should smile more. You’d be so much prettier if you smiled. And that has been said by every condescending man I’ve ever met.
Gabe: Is that really the quote that we’re opening the show with?
Lisa: Well, my second choice was don’t judge a book by its cover as popularized by Edwin Rolfe.
Gabe: Wait, there’s an attribution to that? I just thought it was one of those things like why did the chicken cross the road? It’s just?
Lisa: I know,
Gabe: It just appeared.
Lisa: I know. I was surprised, too. The phrase is actually attributed to a 1944 edition of American Speech, which since 1970 has been the quarterly academic journal of the American Dialect Society. And it was originally you can’t judge a book by its bindings. But then in 1946, it was used in a murder mystery novel by Lester Fuller and Edwin Rolfe. And they said, you can never tell a book by its cover.
Gabe: Wow, that was very thorough.
Lisa: Thank you. And you think I just randomly Google these quotes right before? No, no. I research this stuff.
Gabe: I mean, I’m going to have to take your word for it, because I actually prepared for the show topic, not for like the random quote that Lisa says at the beginning. But it’s a . . .
Lisa: The American Dialect Society. That’s a thing.
Gabe: Yeah, I didn’t even know that was a thing. What we want to discuss is resting bitch face. And it’s funny to say that. It’s like, well, Gabe, what does resting bitch face have to do with mental health? And the answer is, people are really starting to study it as if it was psychology and as if it mattered to the world. There’s headlines out there. One of them is, and this is what got us onto this to begin with. In The Washington Post, scientists have discovered what causes resting bitch face. Like what causes? It sounds so medical.
Lisa: Well, it sounds like there’s real science behind it and also “causes” implied to me that they were going to tell us what the people who have resting bitch face are thinking or doing that causes this appearance on their face. But that’s not what they meant.
Gabe: Fascinatingly enough, I have heard the term resting bitch face for a few years. I have no idea where it came from. I have.
Lisa: It first started in a viral video that first appeared in 2013 about resting bitchy face, but then caught on in part because Anna Kendrick talked about it.
Gabe: Now, who’s Anna Kendrick?
Lisa: She’s an actress.
Gabe: That’s all you got? She’s that actress? Has she been in anything?
Lisa: She’s always does those really funny things on The Daily Show.
Gabe: So she was on The Daily Show and, you know, Twilight, that huge blockbuster
Lisa: I forgot about that.
Gabe: Filled with glittery vampires. And that actually gives me kind of another segue. Our generation, we’re over 40. We have decided that those are not real vampires. Why? Because they look different than the vampires from our generation?
Lisa: Well, because they have too much angst. Probably,
Gabe: They are emo vampires,
Lisa: Yes, that’s the word I’m looking for, emo.
Lisa: They are very emo. They’re no Buffy the Vampire Slayer vampires. Now, those are some vampires.
Gabe: Well, yeah, but they’re running around getting killed. These vampires are at least nice.
Lisa: Are they? I’ve actually only seen Twilight once.
Gabe: I’ve never seen Twilight at all. But
Gabe: But I have nieces who are the right age. But coming back to our point with resting bitch face, what is the slang definition of resting bitch face? When somebody says it, what do they mean?
Lisa: Interesting you should ask that, Gabe. Urban Dictionary does define it as a condition that causes a person to appear angry or annoyed when they’re actually at ease or feeling neutral. And the study you were discussing referenced in The Washington Post was actually about these people. They gave everybody a whole bunch of photographs that everyone agreed had resting bitch face and tried to figure out, OK, what is it about these that they all have in common? What is it that people are responding to? What is it that we’re all identifying as resting bitch face? And their answer was it was a look of contempt.
Gabe: So they tried to scientifically define resting bitch face.
Lisa: Soft science.
Gabe: Just hang on a second here. Isn’t resting bitch face kind of misogynistic? Can?
Lisa: You think?
Gabe: No, I’m asking you, I feel that it’s only ever attributed to women.
Gabe: I know that you feel that way because of your original quote. Which, as everybody recalls, it was you should smile more. You’d be so much prettier if you smiled.
Lisa: I get that a lot.
Gabe: You have told me numerous times that women are just constantly under the gun to have a certain facial expression, even when doing the most mundane of tasks like.
Gabe: Like checking email, reading a book, walking their dog.
Lisa: Because women have to constantly be on display for the male gaze. They’re expected to have this pleasant, likable persona at all times, no matter what they’re doing. Even if you’re doing chores, working out, whatever. You should be pleasing to look at. And people should want to look at you, specifically men.
Gabe: I agree with you. I think this entire thing is rooted in misogyny because every single person with resting bitch face is a woman. Like that in and of itself tells it. Also for what it’s worth, nobody has ever told me that I would be prettier if I smiled. And that’s so sad because I am totally adorbs when I smile.
Lisa: Every woman has been told at least once in her life that she needs to smile more.
Gabe: Only once? Like that would be like a record number based on the people that I talked to, they would love it if it was only once.
Lisa: Well, yeah, exactly, that’s my point.
Gabe: Everybody that I talked to said that they get told this once a week.
Lisa: All the time, I’m assuming no one has ever told you that.
Gabe: But obviously, this is not a show. No, nobody’s ever told me that. I guess outside of the confines of literal acting, like practicing for a speech or. Never just in my day to day life, I think that’s really the rub, right? Nobody has said you’d look prettier if you would smile when they’re taking your headshot. You’re just minding your own business.
Gabe: And I know, I know, that this is rooted in misogyny. But the reason this appealed to me so much is because of the direct correlation with how they’re using psychology to address this, to discuss it, to table it as if it were real. And I feel that waters down the treatment for people with severe and persistent mental illness and mental health problems. I mean, after all, if severe anxiety and resting bitch face are both psychological dilemmas, it kind of makes severe anxiety not seem important. Right?
Lisa: First is very clearly a misogynistic thing. Bitch is always about women. There is no equivalent for men. There is no resting asshole face. When a man appears to not be smiling or not really, really pleased, that’s just some guy and his face and how he looks. Men can just exist.
Gabe: One of the things that you said is that there’s no equivalent for men and I want to be an ally and I want to tell you that I completely agree. But I’m a guy living with mental illness and people have looked at me and decided that I’m a step away from violence or that I need care against my will. There’s all these laws that determine how I get treatment. People are constantly discussing my care and my life as if I’m not even in the room. So I recognize that there is no such thing as resting asshole face. But there is absolutely, in the mental health community, people observing people who are known to live with mental illness, including men, and judging them based on. You know, why can’t I just be sad without it being suicidal? Why can’t I just be happy without it being mania? How do we open it up for that? And that’s the thing that, frankly, both excited me when I first heard there was a study about resting bitch face and disturbed me when I heard that basically it’s a software program designed to help marketers.
Gabe: Because people are just randomly looking at me and deciding how I must feel. And the reality is, 95% of the time they get it wrong. But 100% of the time people have the right to incarcerate me against my will because I could be a danger to myself or others. And me saying, no, I’m not, is irrelevant because they’ve read the non-verbal cues and I look suspicious.
Lisa: What you’re basically talking about doesn’t really having anything to do with resting bitch face, right? What you’re basically talking about is that people have unconscious bias or maybe even conscious.
Gabe: Yes. Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m saying, yes.
Lisa: They’re looking at you. They know you have mental illness and now they’ve made all these assumptions about you, your life, how you will behave, what’s going to happen in the future. And obviously, the best example of unconscious bias is going to be related to race. The idea that by looking at a black man, you can know that he’s going to be violent or something like that. But, yeah, that is a problem with mental illness because, again, everyone assumes that they know what you’re going to do next. And it’s almost always, especially for you as a man, couched in terms of violence.
Gabe: I’m really glad that you brought up unconscious bias. Now, I think that it is important to point out that you’re right. Being a woman with mental illness means that you’ve got two ways for people to have an unconscious bias. You know, being an African-American with mental illness, two ways. So even in terms of people judging me based on my mental illness, that’s still only one thing that they’re judging me for. I’ve still somehow managed to gain some privilege even in this whole entanglement. And I agree with you. I don’t want to lose sight of that. But talking specifically about mental illness, the reason this whole resting bitch face concept appealed to me and it really appealed to us, Lisa, as a topic for the show, is because people seem to understand it. Now, some people agree with it and they’re like, oh, it’s real. And some people are like, all right, this is just bullshit and a way to shame and control women. But people have heard of it. People understand it. And people have opinions on it. I thought that would help move the needle forward on what is the resting bitch face equivalent of trying to control people with mental illness? And how can we use this study or research or knowledge to help people with mental illness have better outcomes or get the help that they need?
Lisa: The question you said is people are debating if it’s real. It is real. If someone looks at me and says, wow, you look like a bitch, that happened. That is a real thing. People are falsely perceiving other people, and yeah. We don’t need to study that. That clearly exists.
Gabe: Lisa, let’s go all the way back to Gabe’s childhood. I was terrified of men. I just was. I was raised predominantly by women for a long time. And when I was younger, any woman could abduct me, no problem. And every man I would run from. Now, I was three. I just I was surrounded by women. We can completely understand how this developed and how this was. But clearly, the answer to this was that Gabe needed to change. Right? My parents needed to socialize me around more men. They needed to teach me that women weren’t inherently safe and men were inherently unsafe. One of the things that I’m noticing in this whole resting bitch face debate is people keep saying, here’s what you can do to get rid of resting bitch face.
Lisa: Right. Yes, very frustrating.
Gabe: Looking back to that analogy. Nobody ever said here’s what men can do to win Gabe’s love and affection. I had to learn. Why do we not have this in mental health? Why do we not have this with mental illness? Why do we not have this with resting bitch face? Why are we not teaching all of society that when you look at somebody and you make an assumption based on the expression on their face that is wholly dangerous and stupid on your part?
Lisa: The whole debate has become, does this person have resting bitch face? Why is that the debate? The debate should be, why does it matter? What does it matter what she looks like when she’s just sitting there? We don’t need to go back and forth debating, hey, is this true or not? Because it is irrelevant. And the obvious example on that one is going to be sex. People are always saying things like, oh, my God, she’s so promiscuous. She had sex with four people. And then this becomes an argument of no, that doesn’t make you promiscuous. No, you have to have sex with X number of people before you’re promiscuous. No, you have to have sex with someone who isn’t your husband. That’s it. Why are you debating that? Why? When someone says, oh, my God, she sleeps around. Why isn’t the answer who cares? Why are we talking about this? This is so incredibly irrelevant. Why are we discussing this?
Gabe: Or more specifically, why isn’t it this is none of your business? Why is this a debate? Why? Why can’t your sexual morals differ from somebody else’s sexual morals? And because it’s your body, your sexuality. Well, frankly, your time, therefore, your choice. I like that you brought up slut shaming because there’s another hotly debated topic. And I hear all the time of people trying to determine what the correct, I don’t know, like what are the correct sexual morals? And I tend to side with the articles that say whatever is best for you in a consenting, healthy relationship are the best sexual morals. But I would venture to guess that a lot of people listening to me would not agree with this.
Lisa: So what you’re saying is that rather than having all these articles about how you can appear more pleasant so people won’t think you’re bitchy when you’re resting, we should instead have articles about stop judging people based on their facial expressions. The world isn’t about you.
Lisa: It’s not this person’s job to make you happy and comfy.
Gabe: Yes. Yes. But now, Lisa, just to keep you on your toes. I am going to argue the other side of the coin. Dun dun duuunnnn.
Lisa: Oh, good.
Gabe: The way people perceive you does matter in our society. I think about this in my advocacy work. I have every right, literally every right to show up in front of the General Assembly, the Senate. Congress, governors and say, what the hell? You’re letting people with mental illness die so that you can fund a sports stadium? You’re giving tax cuts to billionaires so that people with severe and persistent mental illness can? I have every right to yell that. I am angry about it. Lisa, you know how angry I am. But you and I practiced professionalism. You know, Mr. Chairperson, I would like to address the fact that people with homelessness often have untreated mental illnesses and they do not have access to care because of lack of resources and beds. Thank you, Mr. Chairperson. Like we literally practice this and you have told me that it doesn’t matter what’s right. It matters.
Lisa: What works?
Gabe: Right. So when you say there shouldn’t be articles about how to cure resting bitch face, well, is it reasonable to wait for society to change?
Lisa: It really doesn’t matter how you actually feel. What matters is how people perceive you. What you’re really saying is that people are reading your facial expression in a certain way and that does not actually indicate how you feel. But so what? And I take this very personally because this happens to me all the time. I definitely have resting bitch face. I get this comment constantly, that I always look condescending or angry or annoyed. And I’ve gotten this my whole life, and it has not gotten better as I’ve gotten older. It makes me extremely angry because I think, you know, I’m just sitting here. Leave me alone. Or people will say, oh, my God, you were so mad. No, I wasn’t. You think that’s mad? You’ve never actually seen me mad then, because that’s not mad.
Gabe: I can tell you that when Lisa is mad, there is no, yeah. You know, you are 100% positive. You do not think to yourself, I think Lisa is mad. You are running for cover. I hide under desks. It’s terrifying.
Lisa: Anyway, the point is that.
Gabe: That’s it? You’re just going with anyway? You’re not even.
Lisa: I’m assuming people will understand that you’re just making that up. Exaggerating,
Gabe: No, I’m not. I was terrified. Terrified.
Lisa: Really? Desks? You’re hiding under desks? Yeah. You know what I want to say? Like you would fit under a desk.
Lisa: What desk is that?
Gabe: That’s so mean.
Lisa: See, it’s a fat joke.
Gabe: You’re so mean. I’m glad you’re my bestie.
Lisa: See, that’s what you get for calling me mad.
Gabe: Really? You just went? Isn’t this interesting? I just said you want the nuclear option and called me fat. Well, but people are literally judging your personality sight unseen.
Lisa: Right. How come that’s not the nuclear option?
Gabe: It is interesting. It reminds me of one of our favorite shows was The Big Bang Theory. And remember, Leonard, the genius with a PhD and tenure at?
Lisa: I think they were supposed to be at Caltech.
Gabe: Yeah, a tenured professor making six figures. I just. He was the lucky one because
Gabe: Penny was pretty.
Lisa: That always annoyed me. She’s a waitress and an out of work actress. But she can afford to live in the same building as these two tenure track physics professors? Do you know how much money those two were making? And then the thought was always, oh, my God, she’s out of his league. Why? Because she’s pretty? He’s apparently a genius who has an excellent job, but she’s pretty. So that’s what counts.
Gabe: And this is an example of how looks really play a huge role in the public consciousness. And this is a huge problem, I recognize that resting bitch face must be hard for you, but nobody has ever arrested you for having resting bitch face. Nobody has ever pink slipped you or put you in a psychiatric hospital based on your looks. And as annoying as it is, you know, Lisa, I think the world of you and you know that I do. But you are my best friend and I’ve known you for 20 years. And the number of times that you have dismissed what I have to say, because you have decided that I’m having an anxiety attack or a panic attack or hypomania, and you are just flat out wrong. I’m not saying that you’re always wrong. I want to be very clear. Thank you. I want you to look out for me. I do. But that’s like a really easy brush for you to paint, right? Just like you pointed out that resting bitch face is a really easy brush for other people to paint about you. Well, I’ll just assume she’s angry. Well, people with mental illness often get hit with I’ll just assume he’s symptomatic.
Lisa: That is certainly one of the reasons that we got divorced. You actually said, no, it is. I don’t know if you remember this, but one time you actually said to me, you never take me seriously. And I thought, yeah, yeah, that yes, 100 percent. And I actually thought to myself, why would I take you seriously? Yeah. Yeah. If you ever find yourself thinking to yourself, huh, I really don’t need to listen to anything my husband says or care about how he feels because I don’t need to take him or his feelings seriously. Yeah, that’s probably not a relationship that’s going to survive. You could just probably cut that right there and save yourself some time. But yeah, because you spent so many years being all over the place. Yeah. I stopped paying attention. I stopped listening. I stopped taking you seriously. And I don’t feel like that was all that unreasonable. I mean, you had this amazing plan and you’re gonna do this, this and this one day and then the next day you’re on to something else. Well, how much time and effort was I really supposed to invest in any given thing that you said, knowing that you were probably gonna go back on it in a few hours or a few days?
Gabe: This is obviously a little more nuanced, right? Because I didn’t just have a resting symptomatic face, I was actually symptomatic. There was more clues to look into. But I think that there is a large number of the population, people living with mental illness that were symptomatic for a long time before they reached recovery, before they got the right care, before they got the right coping skills, medication, before they got things under control. And they’re having trouble shaking that because everything looks like that. Much in the case of resting bitch face, where it just looks like that. The thing that interested me the most about The Washington Post article is the fact that it actually used the words have discovered what causes it. And I thought, oh, my God, if I can figure out what causes people to think that I have resting bitch face, maybe I can somehow, like, reverse engineer that and figure out why people think I’m symptomatic. And I can hide those things.
Gabe: I have tried to do that. Listen, the article is largely bunk.
Lisa: The software is largely bunk, too, but it was interesting.
Gabe: It was interesting. And the software was created to help marketers.
Lisa: And it apparently works great for that.
Gabe: Yeah, I want to see happy people selling me my Big Macs. So if they can run through the facial expressions of the commercial and be like, yes, this portrays happiness. And it gets it right with apparently like 97% accuracy. That’s great for marketing.
Lisa: That’s actually not what they’re doing.
Gabe: Well, what were they doing?
Lisa: Oh, so it’s actually the person watching the commercial, to see how they feel in response to it. So it’s designed for like focus groups and marketing and stuff like that. So you do something and then you can look at your customers and rather than having to say to them, hey, are you happy? Are you sad? Are you angry? Do you like this ad? Do you not like this ad? You can just use their software and the software will tell you so that you don’t have to rely on what they’re saying, which I’m sure is an extremely valuable tool and apparently works great for its intended purpose. Or if it doesn’t, at least people think it does because they’ve sold a lot of it.
Gabe: Then how on earth does this do anything? It doesn’t even diagnose resting bitch face. It just measures the bias
Gabe: Of the people on the software.
Lisa: Who programmed the software, yeah.
Gabe: Who have already decided what it is.
Lisa: Right. Yes. Yeah, it’s like a deepity, where it’s like self-referential, it’s like a snake eating its own tail. Well, what is resting bitch face? This is. How do you know? Because I’ve compared it to this. Yeah. It just goes in a circle. Incidentally, do you want to know what it is they’ve decided was the thing that showed you? We already said about that it turned out that what people were defining as resting bitch face was a look of contempt. And how, you ask, do you show contempt? With lips and brow not quite angry or sad. The lip tightened and raised or pulled slightly back on one side and your eyes squinted or tightened.
Gabe: I can hear all of the bias in there. One of the things that came to mind when you said the eyes squinted or tightened,
Gabe: There’s cultures where that is how their faces are structured. That’s not an indication of their emotions or feelings or anything. That’s just that’s a facial structure. Just you.
Lisa: Well, we as Americans should recognize that software has bias because it’s made by people.
Gabe: But that’s like they actually said squinty eyes will just. That’s.
Lisa: Well, not necessarily because you could always assume that it’s not about having squinty eyes. It’s about your eyes being squinted.
Gabe: Eh, I
Lisa: I know, I know.
Gabe: I’m not trying to fall down a rabbit hole here, I’m just saying that, you know, the data that you get out is only as good as the data you put in.
Gabe: I’m reminded of an advocate, a pretty popular advocate, who said that everybody with mental illness is violent. And his study to prove it said that one of the indicators of mental illness was violence. So therefore, if you had mental illness and you were not violent, you
Lisa: You did not have mental illness.
Gabe: Didn’t have mental illness.
Gabe: Well, isn’t that perfect? Just one hundred percent of blonds are violent. If the blond is not violent, then she is not a real blond. Well,
Gabe: What if she is a real blond?
Lisa: Well, she’s not because she’s not violent.
Gabe: She not, yeah, must be a secret, just.
Lisa: Right. He’s not really mentally ill because he’s not violent. Only people who are violent are really mentally ill. Yeah, that’s a problem.
Gabe: It also reminds me of the biases in standardized testing, for example. You know, Lisa, what is two plus two?
Gabe: OK, now, Lisa, what is the number of Rocky movies plus the number of Back to the Future movies?
Lisa: I actually don’t know that I’m gonna know that. Are we counting the Apollo Creed movies?
Lisa: Oh, OK. So in that case, we’re gonna go with, umm
Gabe: You see what I mean?
Lisa: Nine. The answer is nine.
Gabe: I did that on purpose because there’s all of this stuff that you have to debate and you wouldn’t be able to ask questions. So therefore, let’s say that that you wrote on that thing nine. Now you got to ask a follow up question. Nine would arguably be the correct answer because there’s the
Lisa: The six Rocky’s.
Gabe: Five Rocky’s and the Rocky Balboa so that gets you to six. There’s the three Back to the Futures
Lisa: Well, but do you count that as a Creed movie?
Lisa: Because then the next one after that is about his son.
Gabe: Well, right but it is. But you see what I’m saying?
Lisa: I do, I do. Philosophers should debate this great question.
Gabe: I am now going to ding you and be like you’re stupid and can’t do basic math. Can you believe this woman? She can’t even do six plus three.
Gabe: The actual thing is you don’t watch the movies. You don’t understand. You don’t t know what I’m talking about.
Lisa: That’s the objection to standardized testing, that it assumes a set base of cultural knowledge that not everyone has.
Gabe: Yes, that is a much faster way of saying it. We also have that in our software.
Lisa: Well, and in our medical diagnoses.
Lisa: We’ll be right back after these messages.
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Lisa: And we’re back. Relating resting bitch face to mental illness. So this is all about other people’s perceptions. But again, does it matter if it doesn’t reflect your actual feelings? You have said this to me all the time for years. I’ll do or say something and you’ll say, oh, that sounded really angry or yeah, mostly angry. And I’m like, well, but I’m not angry. And you’re like, but people think that you are. But I’m not. But people think that you are. And you’re like, it doesn’t matter what’s actually going on. How people perceive you matters. And the thing that you always say to me when I write something that isn’t very clear and I’m like, well, that’s not what it means. And you say but the purpose of communication is to explain it to the other person. This is written for the reader, not for you. So if it is not accurately explaining something, that’s your problem. Communication is a two way thing.
Gabe: This is the issue, right? This is the million dollar discussion. I took a leadership course once and the example that it gave is let’s say that you are the head mechanic and you have a car that comes in with a tire that is flat. So you say to your
Gabe: Lower level mechanic, the right side tire needs replaced and the mechanic then changes the wrong tire because they were standing in the front. You were standing in the back. Now you can try to figure out who to blame, you know, or you can decide to standardize. Well, we’re always going to say right side, left side based on the back of the car. So when I say right, always assume that you’re standing in the back facing the front.
Lisa: Or you could just do passenger and driver.
Gabe: Right. You can do passenger and driver, passenger front, passenger back, driver front driver back and a good leader will figure out the best way to communicate to their employees. Now that’s easy because, one, there’s a clear leader, a person who is in charge. And two, you are in control of your own employees, so you can set this stuff up. I don’t know how to turn this into the rest of the world, but I do know that when the entire country is fascinated by something called resting bitch face that they think is true and real. And for some reason now has scientific merit, that I think it’s going to be very, very difficult to convince people that people with mental illness aren’t faking. And that’s what’s so interesting. Right? Because people with mental illness are often faking, just in the opposite direction. We’re faking that we’re happy when we’re actually, like, really depressed.
Lisa: Yeah, you can never really tell what someone is feeling. You can never really tell what someone is thinking, no matter how much you think you know. I’ve made a list of all the things that we could say instead of resting bitch face. They have the same meaning. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Beauty is only skin deep. Looks can be deceiving. All that glitters is not gold. We have lots and lots of ways to say that what you see is not necessarily reality. And especially when it comes to mental illness, what someone is looking like or projecting is not necessarily what’s actually going on. People look like they’re happy, but they’re really not. Well, then the reverse also exists. People look like they’re sad, but they’re fine.
Gabe: I’m going to do that thing where I flip it on you again, Lisa, just to keep you on your toes. I’m thinking about myself and I’m thinking about my fellow peers, you know, other people living with serious and persistent mental illness. And I think about all the times that I just sit in my own darkness, in my own wallow, in my own depression and unhappiness and just the horror show that is sometimes my life. And I’m constantly looking out at the world. And I’m like, well, they all get to be happy. Why can’t I be happy? Look at that family that’s happy. Look at that couple that’s happy. Look at that child that’s happy. Look at that adult that’s happy. Why do they get a nicer car than me? Why are they laughing? Why are they smiling? Why is their life better? They’re in my sight line for fifteen seconds. And I have determined that they are better than me, they are happy, and it’s not fair.
Lisa: Well, it’s also because you spend too much time on social media. No one is presenting themselves as real life. Have you ever posted unflattering picture of yourself on your social media? No, of course not. So therefore, in the same way that that’s not how you really look, that’s also not how your life really is. No one is projecting to the world, at least no one is trying to project to the world anything negative or anything unsuccessful. They’re always putting their best foot forward. Well, that’s not necessarily their real feet.
Gabe: I have posted unflattering pictures of myself on social media, but it was in response to this idea that so you’re right. I do want to say that I was forced into it. There’s just been a lot of conversations about how everybody puts their best foot forward. One of the things that I heard a lot is well, Gabe, you never are symptomatic. We listen to your podcasts, we read your writing, and we see your social media. And you never have symptoms. Yeah, I don’t record when I’m symptomatic. I really don’t. There have been times that I have recorded myself sick. There is a podcast out there where I’m having a panic attack. And my co-host of the time, aimed a microphone in front of me. And it is a nightmare. I had my wife record me once when I was having a panic attack. There’s a video out there of me literally pulling my hair out to explain trichotillomania.
Lisa: That one’s a good one.
Gabe: I got enough e-mails and comments of people saying, well, clearly, Gabe, you never have symptoms, how do you do it? And I realized that I was doing a disservice. But it was accidental. I wasn’t trying to only put my best foot forward. It just happened organically. And I think that we need to realize that’s what everybody does.
Lisa: Yeah, in general, most people wish to present themselves in a positive light at all times. But like you said, it’s one of those things where it’s not fair, right? It’s not fair that other people are perceiving you this way when you’re not this way. And trust me, I understand. I am so with you on the lack of fairness, because, again, this happens to me constantly, but it doesn’t matter. You’re not going to be able to change the entire world. You can’t control them. You can’t do anything about their thoughts, their feelings. You can only control yourself. And if you are consistently being perceived in a way that you do not want to be perceived. Your only solution is to change. It sucks, but true.
Gabe: Have you tried to change your resting bitch face, Lisa?
Lisa: Occasionally I have tried. It actually gives me a lot of sadness to even think about because this is an intrinsic part of me. This is my face. This is how I look. So the idea that I need to change it is depressing because when someone says you have to change, that means you’re currently bad. So I actually have a lot of emotion surrounding attempting to change the resting bitch face. But this perception that people have of me, it is almost always to my detriment. It almost never helps me professionally. It certainly doesn’t help me socially. So that makes me extremely angry. But again, so what?
Gabe: Along those same lines, and I know it’s not the same thing. I really genuinely and honestly do, but I feel like I have resting happy face.
Lisa: You do, actually. Yes.
Gabe: Because the number of people who think that I’m happy go lucky and I’m the life of the party and I’m just filled with joy and light. The number of people who don’t know me well who are just like Gabe is the happiest person I know. We’d love to have Gabe’s life. And as you know, my life is very, very difficult because of bipolar disorder. And I don’t know what to do with that. Oftentimes I do educate them. I say, look, you are absolutely judging me by a public persona. I am not this person in any way. I strive to be this person. I try to be happy and positive. But I’m actually filled with a lot of
Gabe: I’m filled with a lot of mental illness
Gabe: That I have to fight on a daily basis. And it’s always fascinating to me the number of people that tell me that I’m happy go lucky. Lisa, would you describe me as happy go lucky.
Lisa: No, not even a little, but I do see why people say it. I do see where it comes from.
Gabe: I can kind of see it, too.
Lisa: If you remember, I had that one job where someone actually said to me, oh, you have such a sunny disposition. And I thought, oh, my God, I am kicking ass at this job because, yeah, no one who knows me in real life is ever going to actually think that. And to be fair, I don’t know that I necessarily want them to. Even just sitting here thinking about this, when you asked me if I’d ever tried to change, I have a lot of emotions surrounding this. It feels like everybody around me is speaking a language that I understand, but I can’t say back. So I can understand what they’re saying and doing, but they can’t understand me. And this has been a source of frustration and shame for definitely my entire adult life and probably most of my adolescence. It’s always been a very difficult thing. I’ve spent many an hour in therapy talking about this that I do not like the way other people perceive me.
Gabe: Lisa, one of the things that you and I have done, and again, we’ve had 20 years to work on this is we just flat out ask each other, you know, I say, are you mad at me?
Lisa: That was a therapy suggestion.
Gabe: Yeah, and it’s worked out great. This is a sincere question, if a stranger walked up to you and said, are you angry? How would you respond?
Lisa: Am I actually angry when it happens?
Gabe: No, because you have resting bitch face, so you’re at that, you’re at the neutral. You’re in a restaurant. You’re sitting there on your phone, your meals in front of you. And you have a female server. And she walks over and says, what’s wrong? Is everything okay?
Lisa: That’s happened to me a lot.
Gabe: How do you respond to that?
Lisa: Most of the time, I immediately start to put on this super happy persona. Oh, no, everything’s wonderful. I’m fine. Thank you so much for asking. I go way over the top and then I find myself often reassuring people and saying stupid things like, I know I look like I’m mad, but I’m not. Or I know you think I’m mocking you, but I’m not. And incidentally, that doesn’t work. If you actually say to someone I know I sound sarcastic, but I’m being sincere. Yeah. No one believes that. It actually makes it worse. So I should really learn to not do that, but I keep doing it. But it does not help.
Gabe: Oh, yeah, I understand. It’s the same way with bipolar disorder. Gabe, are you symptomatic? No, I’m not symptomatic. Here’s all the reasons why I’m not symptomatic. I don’t see why you think I’m symptomatic. Oh, that’s how we know he’s symptomatic. He’s so symptomatic, he’s unaware of his own symptoms.
Lisa: Saying you’re not sick shows how sick you are.
Gabe: Yes, yes.
Gabe: Lisa, I understand that you’ve battled what people are calling resting bitch face your entire life, and I completely agree with you that this whole thing is rooted in, frankly, misogyny and this idea that women need to look a certain way or projecting a certain thing. I understand that it’s frustrating for you to be the elected spokesperson, but the person thinks that you’re angry. But rather than assuming they ask, isn’t that the right thing to do? Isn’t that good?
Gabe: I know, and I understand for what it’s worth, that you find it annoying having to be the ambassador for explaining.
Lisa: Well, it’s about having to justify yourself every time you turn around.
Gabe: Exactly, and I know that bothers you and I understand why it bothers you. You get mad when people assume that there is a problem.
Lisa: Sometimes, yeah, a lot.
Gabe: Isn’t this the best thing for them to do to actually engage you in conversation and ask?
Gabe: Isn’t this the way that we want the world to work?
Gabe: I am picking on you a bit, but here’s why I’m picking on you. They can either assume that you’re angry and act accordingly. Or they can look you in the eyes and have an adult conversation with you. Both things seem to piss you off.
Lisa: What I want is to not even go down this road. I just want to not have this problem, but I do understand that’s not a choice. I get that. But I suppose for the good of all and for my own long term benefit, I should probably try to engage more with the conversation. But that gets old. It’s a lot easier said than done.
Gabe: The best example that I have is as a man with bipolar disorder, I would much rather not have to explain. I would rather not have to wonder. I would rather so many things. Just just.
Lisa: And you can’t keep it up every day,
Gabe: It is very, very difficult.
Lisa: Maybe you can be the perfect advocate. You can be the bipolar ambassador for X amount of time or so many days or in specific situations. But after a while, you’re just tired of it. It’s exhausting. It’s just exhausting. Yet another perfect analogy for mental illness. And it probably is circling back around to make that mental illness just a little bit worse, because all that stress. It is bad enough that you have bipolar disorder or whatever illness. But now you also have to deal with all of society’s crap surrounding it? That’s just piling on.
Gabe: It really is, and as I’ve said many times, I did not ask to be sick and the elected spokesperson
Gabe: And I recognize I’m not the elected spokesperson. It’s just I have to educate my friends and family and those around me about this. And they get it wrong a lot. They get it right sometimes. And that’s all very, very difficult. Right.
Lisa: And often you feel positively about it and often you do it. And it usually turns out well, etc. But sometimes, yeah, it’s just it’s too much.
Gabe: I get the idea of getting overwhelmed, but I just don’t see another choice. And I also think, not for nothing, if all of the people 50 years ago, if all of the Gabe Howards’ 50 years ago would have been open, discussed this, answered questions, let people use their words, challenged the misconceptions, fought against stigma. Maybe I wouldn’t have to deal with it. Maybe the reason that I’m dealing with it is because everybody else kept quiet.
Gabe: So I guess I just don’t want this problem for the next generation of people or the generation after that. I just it is one of the reasons I speak up. I do want life to be better for Gabe. But I also want life to be better for the next set of Gabes.
Lisa: I think it’s a little unfair to say that the last generation didn’t do that. You don’t know that. Maybe they did, maybe they did it a lot. And just it’s such a slow process. You’ve made such incremental progress that it’s not done yet. Maybe they actually did quite a lot of, they did so much work you can’t even tell how much work they did. All of their work is what’s allowed you to even know there’s work to be done.
Gabe: That’s a very fair statement. The reality is, is probably the work that they did is why I am not in an institution my entire life. It’s why I’m allowed to speak freely. That’s very fair. And I apologize.
Lisa: You should consider doing the work for the next in line. But it’s not going to be something that you can complete for the next in line. It’s an ongoing thing.
Gabe: It just shouldn’t be a slow process. Remember back when I started off in mental health advocacy and I was like, oh, this is just an education problem?
Lisa: Yes. Yes, I do.
Gabe: I’ll have this solved in a year.
Lisa: All I need to do is educate people. Actual words the man said.
Gabe: Yeah. Fifteen years later, still at it.
Lisa: He started debating ways to educate people faster or to get to more people quicker because that’s the problem. Not that it isn’t a problem, but it’s not the whole story.
Gabe: It really isn’t, and I genuinely and honestly thought that it was a matter of people misunderstanding. And if I just explained it to them then they would understand and then they’d be fine.
Lisa: Right. That you were under the impression that everyone was coming at you with good faith,
Gabe: I was.
Lisa: That everyone was actually legitimately interested in learning, were legitimately interested in hearing your point of view, going forward, making progress, and that’s just not always the case. Not everyone is approaching you with love in their heart.
Gabe: That said, I’m still glad that I do this work. I still believe that the progress and the gains are worth it. I recognize that mental illness, advocacy, and resting bitch face are worlds apart. It’s a weird analogy. And the fact that resting bitch face made headlines at all kind of shows you that, I don’t know, maybe something is amiss. Obviously, as a mental health show, the minute resting bitch face made the news we were gonna do it, especially since you, Lisa, have been accused of having resting bitch face ad nauseum.
Lisa: I’ve heard it for years.
Gabe: Yeah. So even though it’s pretty much well-established, this is just not really a thing. People understand that your facial expression does not line up with your actual feelings. You just look mean. You aren’t mean. You look angry. You’re not angry. Well understood. Yet, for some reason, we sit around and we look at the world and we’re like, everybody’s happy but me. Well, why do you think that? They have resting happy face. They look happy, so they must be happy. They look content, so they must be content. They look successful, so they must be successful. But in actuality, they’re anything but. Right? But I know in my darkest moments, Lisa, I’m looking at people and I’m like, why do they get to be happy and not me? And you know why I have decided they’re happy? From some, like, ten seconds snippet while they’re in my sightline, I’m not even talking to these people.
Lisa: Do you remember that antidepressant commercial they had a few years ago where the person had a happy face mask? And whenever they had to go out, they wore the happy face mask in front of their face?
Lisa: The point of the commercial was that if you took this product over time, you wouldn’t have to hold up the happy face mask as much anymore because it would no longer be a mask. It would be real. I really liked that commercial because, yeah, I feel like that all the time. I feel like I am all the time putting forward that happy face. Yeah. That happy face. I’m all the time trying to put this happy positivity feeling forward that I don’t necessarily feel.
Gabe: But that means, to drive this home, just to pound the nail in as hard as we can pound it in. That means when people see you in public, Lisa, holding up your happy face mask, they think, why does that woman get to be happy? Look at her. Look how happy she is because they can’t see you holding the mask.
Lisa: Right. So it works both ways. People can look at me, or anyone, and think she’s happy when she’s really not, or she’s angry when she’s really not, or she’s a bitch when she’s really not. So, again, can’t judge a book by its cover.
Gabe: Hey, isn’t that a quote that you used?
Lisa: See, I brought it around.
Gabe: Oh, look at you. I’m proud of my choices and I’m proud of my fellow advocates. And when I say my fellow advocates, I don’t mean other people with blogs or podcasts or books. I mean the person who when they’re sitting at dinner and somebody says something incorrect about mental illness, living with mental illness, the diagnoses, etc., they speak up and they say, you know, that’s not completely true. Let me let me enlighten you. Let me teach you. My other advocates who keep fighting to make their lives better. I think this is amazing work. And the number of unsung heroes is so vast. And I see you. I hear you. I want to know more about you and your stories. And that’s why we always leave the email address show@PsychCentral.com open for you to tell us the things that bother you and the things that you’re seeing. And listen, judging from our e-mail box, you don’t always agree with us and we’re cool with that. As you can tell, Gabe and Lisa have not fallen apart crying. We do fight a lot, but, you know, we were going to anyway.
Lisa: Yeah. Yeah, that’s really not your fault.
Gabe: Lisa, did you have fun?
Lisa: I’m never sure how to answer that, but yes, great episode.
Gabe: You know, most people would just say, yeah, Gabe, I had a great time.
Lisa: Well, that is not necessarily a happy topic. No one says, hey, let’s talk about war. Is that fun? No, no. Let’s talk about puppies. That’ll be fun.
Gabe: You do not watch the History Channel, do you? These people look like they’re thrilled discussing war. I don’t.
Lisa: Good point. Something I had not considered.
Gabe: Lisa, thank you for hanging out with me and, listeners, we are thrilled that you are here. If you like the show, please subscribe. Please use your words and rank us. Write us a nice review. If you have any criticisms, compliments, show topics, anything, please e-mail, show@PsychCentral.com. And many of you don’t know this, but after the credits, there’s always an outtake of where well, frankly, Gabe and Lisa screwed up. Thanks, everyone.
Lisa: We’ll see you next week.
Announcer: You’ve been listening to the Not Crazy Podcast from Psych Central. For free mental health resources and online support groups, visit PsychCentral.com. Not Crazy’s official website is PsychCentral.com/NotCrazy. To work with Gabe, go to gabehoward.com. Want to see Gabe and me in person? Not Crazy travels well. Have us record an episode live at your next event. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
This article originally appeared on Psych Central as Podcast: Studying “Resting B**ch Face”