Cover art by Jackie Kim
Dear Resting Bitch Face,
I first noticed you staring back at me from the pages of my high school yearbook, but I’m pretty sure you’ve been with me since the beginning.
I cannot recall a single Christmas morning that would have warranted your presence, but as I flip through the old photos, there you are under the tree. There you are ruining the kindergarten nativity scene, at birthday parties, on vacations, with family, foiling every attempt to capture candid joy.
I guess I never managed to commit an absent-minded smile to my muscle memory. So instead, I have you, a scoop of ice cream falling from the cone and splattering on the sun-heated sidewalk as soon as the camera clicks.
You’re not a big problem, just a persistent one. Sneaking in when I’m not paying attention into places you’re not wanted – job interviews, at work, on the bus, using my phone, reading a book – I can’t pause for a moment to think without you showing up. You’re the default setting, the world’s worst screensaver.
Zoning out is never as innocuous as a “closed” sign hanging on the front door. You’re plywood over the windows, door nailed shut. Maybe a moat and a barbed wire fence too if I’m having a rough day.
That’s not always a bad thing. Who else would keep me company when I walk home alone at night if not you? Your look sharper than the keys wedged between my fingers, steely and cold and safer to carry than pepper spray.
Most of the time though, I wish you were something that compact. Something I could fit neatly in my purse and only take out when I need you.
Supposedly, it takes more muscles to smile than it does to frown, but with you, a pleasant neutral expression is a constant balancing act. Eyes open, but not too wide. The corners of my mouth upturned but relaxed, the strategic application of eyeshadow at just the right angle. Always trying to look up at the person I’m speaking to. Friendly, but not over-eager. Not too serious, but enough to be taken seriously.
I’m tired of apologizing for you, of fielding every Are you mad at me? What’s wrong? Are you okay?
I’m rarely as miserable as you make me look, like stale coffee, all dark and bitter. If I could trade you for champagne, I would. It’s everything we’re not: light and bubbly without trying, always sweet, always ready to celebrate something.
Remember that summer when the man on the other side of the concessions counter told us we’d be pretty if we didn’t look so angry? I’d been staring into the empty lobby for hours, long enough to lose my customer-ready exterior. You vanished as soon as he pointed you out, disappeared behind my lips as I stretched them into a polite smile. I handed him his change, his popcorn, told him to enjoy his movie. Even managed a laugh and a high-pitched thank you when he said that I looked better already.
On different faces, you have other names: Stern. Stoic. Neutral. Somehow your bitchiness is diluted by testosterone, your severity balanced out by a squarer jaw. On them, no one tells you to lighten up. No one asks what your problem is. No one insists that you are a problem.
A lot of people call you a defense mechanism. Although there are times that I’m grateful for the protection you offer, you are not an armor. I don’t fasten you in place every morning after I brush my teeth. You’re just there. Always.
If anything, the defense mechanism is the smile, the appeasement I offer with every grin, just to keep your name from becoming mine too.
We weren’t always at odds, you and I, but somewhere along the way I learned to resent you. It’s not fair, and it’s not all your fault, but here we are.
I know I shouldn’t care so much what people think of us. I could probably learn a thing or two from you. You already look like you couldn’t give less of a shit. Why is it so hard for me to feel the same way?
Behind the Writing: The original medium for this piece was a video essay, but I recently decided to revisit it and make it into a text only piece. I think this keeps it more true to the letter format, but it did lead to some changes in the tone. Originally, the visuals I had used in the video were more lighthearted and comedic. I had to figure out a different way to balance out the silliness of writing a letter to Resting Bitch Face with the reflection on why the term sometimes bothers me.