Image: Facebook/Whitney Way Thore.
“Give us a smile, love.” “You’d be so much prettier if you smiled.” “Smile! It can’t be that bad!”
If you’re a woman with a face, and you’ve taken that face out in public, chances are you’ve been on the receiving end of one of these remarks.
We all appreciate the power of a grin but when you’re having a shitty day, you’re just trying to go about your business, or you just so happen to have a not-so-sunny resting face, having strangers implore you to just smile! can be infuriating. Even if it’s said with the most innocent of intentions.
In a Facebook post on Saturday, body positive activist, author and dancer Whitney Way Thore articulated exactly why this situation is so problematic.
As she recounted, Thore had stopped in at a service station after a long day to pick up some pain relief pills and gum when the store attendant — who addressed her as “sweetheart” — decided to hold her purchases hostage.
“When I went to the counter to pay, he said, ‘You gotta give me a smile if you want this,’ and hid my gum away in his hand. ‘No thanks,’ I told him. ‘I’ll just have the gum.’ He didn’t ring up my gum and instead grumbled under his breath and lectured me about having a bad attitude,” the My Big Fat Fabulous Life star wrote.
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“Interactions like this are beyond frustrating and belittling. I was not rude to this man, and I do not owe him a smile or outward display of happiness — I was exhausted and had a headache, but that doesn’t even matter because I do not need to justify not smiling on demand for a stranger. Would he have held a male customer’s items hostage until he smiled for him? I’m willing to bet everything I own that the answer is no.?”
Clearly, Thore’s post hit a nerve — it’s received almost 60,000 likes and been shared 4500 times. While many of her followers supported her sentiment and shared their own stories, others lectured Thore for her refusal to humour the attendant.
“That was rude. Some people just like cheering people up. Have you never looked at someone and said, ‘smile, everything will be alright’?” one follower wrote.
Thore explained that as far as she was concerned, it was the opposite. “What is rude is a clerk who leered at me the entire time I was in there and in an attempt to ‘flirt’ with me refused to do his job. He would not have treated a man like that, period. Why on earth would smiling because someone else demanded it make ME feel better? THAT is rude,” she wrote.