The science behind Resting Bitch Face.

A study has found both men and women suffer from the joyless ‘syndrome’ known as Resting Bitch Face. But why do we expect everyone to be constantly smiling, asks Deirdre Fidge. It’s disingenuous, and it makes your cheeks hurt.

I had my photo taken recently and found myself wondering if I have Resting Bitch Face.

Publications I write for often ask for an accompanying headshot, so people can put a face to the peculiar stream of gibberish they are reading. I only have heavily-filtered iPhone selfies and my spotty Year 10 school mugshot — neither of these scream, “Please take me seriously as a writer and human lady”.

So, I had some headshots taken at a local studio.

While viewing the finished photos, I instantly thought the non-smiling pictures made me seem surly. “Woah, that’s a bitchy one,” I thought, looking at a picture of my neutral expression.

But is the face of a non-smiling woman inherently the same as a glaring one?

Many women supposedly suffer from an alleged “syndrome” known as Resting Bitch Face: if you aren’t beaming 24/7, you’re seen as a bitch.

On the flipside, it’s hard to be taken seriously if you are a perpetually-smiling young woman.

People will start referring to you as “perky” and you might become so bubbly and light that you float away into the sky like a dandelion flower.

Male journalists reading the evening news aren’t seen as bitchy despite their neutral facial expressions: they are informative, educated and calm.

As part of a new study — yes, a study was designed specifically to determine what causes RBF — researchers used software called Facereader to analyse over 10,000 images of human faces.

It mapped various points of the image and assigned a level of expression based on eight human emotions: happiness, sadness, fear, anger, disgust, surprise, contempt and neutral.


The software also analysed faces of celebrities — who are surely always feeling completely natural and comfortable when being photographed — and found Kanye West and Anna Kendrick, among others, “officially” have RBF.

‘Resting Bitch Face detected in both sexes in equal measure’

Interestingly, RBF was detected in male and female faces in equal measure; in other words, the idea that RBF is an exclusively female phenomenon has nothing to do with facial physiology and everything to do with gender norms.

“When [Anna Kendrick] was younger, directors would say, ‘Why don’t you smile more, you need to smile more, you don’t seem like you’re very happy’,” behavioural researcher Abbe Macbeth said.

Anna Kendrick. Image: ABC.

"That's something that's expected from women far more than it's expected from men, and there's a lot of anecdotal articles and scientific literature on that.

"So RBF isn't necessarily something that occurs more in women, but we're more attuned to notice it in women because women have more pressure on them to be happy and smiley and to get along with others."

Women are constantly being told to smile by strangers on the street, and society itself. We are told to be polite and not challenge authority.

Women frequently play the peace-keeping role in their families and at work, running the risk of being labelled a "bitch" or a "ball-breaker" — particularly if in a management role.

Thus, a chipper smile is almost always expected of a woman.

An obvious red flag of this study is that how these emotions appear on one's face can differ greatly depending on culture, personality and energy.

We've all had moments of feeling intensely emotional yet maintained a perfectly neutral poker-face.

For example, there are times when passengers mistake public transport for their personal hygiene grooming arena, and I feel I hide my horror quite well.

However, as is the case with many elements of society, binaries are not helpful. It's not BITCHY vs HAPPY in some sort of emotion boxing ring, in a dystopian future where emotions have become sentient and are forced to fight and we all long for the big sleep.


If you look around a lecture at a university, the majority of students could probably be classified as having Resting Bitch Face. It means they are concentrating. (Unless, of course, the class is 'Laughing 101' in which case, sign me up, please.)

The students are engaged with a stimulus or thought and — surprise, surprise — they generally won't always be grinning ear-to-ear.

In relation to applying this alleged syndrome to celebrities: why should actors or artists be expected to smile all the time? It's exhausting. It can be disingenuous. It makes your cheeks tired.

A long-standing beauty pageant myth is that contestants put Vaseline on their teeth to keep them smiling for hours.

Former Miss Australia Rachael Finch once admitted to doing this, despite her preference for "smiling from the heart".

There is definitely an irony in women experiencing a lifetime of being told to smile, and then receiving Botox injections to "treat" the wrinkles that have appeared around their mouth.

What's more, sometimes artists are promoting work for which a toothy grin would be a terribly inappropriate accessory.

I actually think Resting Bitch Face might be a sign of strength and confidence. And that can be intimidating to people who are insecure.

If West and Kendrick have Resting Bitch Face, then so be it. It's not an insult.

So maybe we can keep the acronym, but tweak a word?

I propose "Resting Business Face". Because bitches get stuff done.

This post originally appeared on the ABC.
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