Whitney Way Thore nails why being told to smile is "frustrating and belittling".

“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.

Watch: Speaking of well-meaning but irritating phrases, here are the ones single women are sick of hearing. (Post continues after video.)


“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.

"I was not rude to this man, and I do not owe him a smile." (Image: Facebook)


In response to another commenter, she argued the incident was a clear example of men treating women as public property by attempting to police their behaviour and appearance.

"If you don't feel well, or if you've had a fight with your husband, or if you just don't feel like it—you think it's okay to be forced to smile by a clerk who asks for it in exchange for DOING HIS JOB? ... It's blatant sexism, plain and simple," she wrote.

Thore isn't alone in calling for people, especially men, to stop telling women to smile — there are dozens of articles and even a street art project addressing the topic.

The "smile, love" experience isn't unique to the everyday woman walking down the street, either. Following her US Open win last September, Serena Williams was forced to defend herself when a reporter asked her why she wasn't smiling during a late-night press conference.

Serena Williams will smile when she bloody well wants to, thanks. Image: Getty


"It’s 11:30. To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t want to be here. I just want to be in bed right now and I have to wake up early to practice and I don’t want to answer any of these questions," she responded.

"And you keep asking me the same questions. It’s not really … you’re not making it super enjoyable."

The fact is, women (and men, for that matter) are under no obligation to appear happy or approachable or sweet for the benefit of others. There's no law stipulating that an upbeat expression is a pre-requisite for leaving the house and going about your life.

Yes, it's always lovely to exchange a smile with a stranger in public, but none of us has the right to demand or police it.

Have you been told to smile? How did it make you feel?