Face Value

By Anita Stafford

At the mall yesterday I was approached by a salesperson, one of the entrepreneurs bent on snagging customers as they walk from one store to another. He didn’t snag me, but it wasn’t because I refused his pitch. I had not even noticed him until he spoke.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” he said, stepping in front of me.

I looked at him. Our eyes locked. There was a slight pause.

“Have a nice day, ma’am,” he said, stepping away.

I was baffled for a few minutes, until I realized what had just happened. The young man had taken one look at my face and changed his mind about trying to sell me his product. I scared him away with a glance, but it had not been intentional. I’m endowed with what’s known as Resting Bitch Face, or RBF. Judging his options with a split-second look, he dared not mess with me. The funny, yet sad, part of this is that he was mistaken about my disposition.

RBF delivered me out of the clutches of a mall salesperson this time, but it is not an asset I’m proud to possess most of the time. Having an exterior that doesn’t match the interior can often make a person misunderstood.

From the time I was a child, people have been accusing me of having negative emotions because of my RBF. I remember being taken by surprise when other children would ask me what I was mad about when I didn’t feel angry or cross at all. Even after all these years, I’m a bit stunned when people inquire if I’m annoyed or if something is bothering me. On the inside there is no problem, but my face is deceiving. Too bad I haven’t been collecting dollars for every time I have been misread because of my RBF.

Just change your expression, you say. It sounds simple enough, but it’s not that easy. A RBF is the face one has when no thought is given to expression. It’s the face I portray to the world when I’m deep in thought or preoccupied in work. Everyone has a face we show when we are “being,” but not “reacting.” For some of us, our “being” face does not look like sunshine and roses. Having a face that takes the shape of RBF can give a person the undeserved reputation of being a grouch, or even worse.

I have a fear that my RBF will get worse as I get older. I’m concerned that gravity may make this already unpleasant unconscious expression even more disagreeable. It would help if I could spend all my time thinking about keeping a smile on my face, but I get distracted by other thoughts. My face is what it is.Anyone can have RBF. Unless you’re in front of a mirror all day, it’s impossible to know how your expression looks to others. Based on my own experience, I have put together some clues that might indicate if a person has RBF:

1. You’re always cast as the wicked witch or evil step-mother in plays.

2. Children scream when you answer the door on Halloween, but you’re not wearing a mask.

3. In public places, strangers tell you to smile.

4. You’ve been asked if you’re mad so many times, it’s making you mad.

5. Your driver’s license photo resembles a mug shot.

It doesn’t mean you are a flawed individual if you discover you have RBF, but you may be the recipient of harsh judgments. People who don’t understand may presume you to have an irritable personality. Hold your head up, you’re in good company. Observers of this phenomenon say Queen Elizabeth II and Angelina Jolie are both afflicted by RBF. In looking at photos of the two, I tend to agree with the assessment.

My RBF does not give a true reflection of what I’m thinking or feeling inside as I go about my everyday business. What you see is not always what you get. I hope you won’t make negative assumptions about me if you see me somewhere wearing my RBF. I will smile at you if we meet, but be forewarned, my face may then resume its natural RBF position. It doesn’t mean I’m mad, pouting, or grumpy. My RBF is the way my features are put together. At rest my features don’t line up in a pleasant way. Please don’t fault me for it.

Unless I wear a bag over my head or opt for plastic surgery, my RBF is here to stay. I might as well embrace it at face value and consider it to be my membership in a unique club. I’d like to trade stories with Angelina and Queen Elizabeth. It might even be fun for the three of us to go to the mall together for a few laughs. The vendors wouldn’t have a chance.

About this writer

  • Anita StaffordAnita Stafford is a blogger and writer living in northern Arkansas. She is a twenty-two year veteran of public education and is also a Licensed Professional Counselor.

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7 Responses to “Face Value”

  1. Lin Green says:

    I have that face! Oh my gosh, Ms. Stafford, I am so grateful to finally find a name for it. My mother was always telling me I looked like I was frowning. My husband always asks me what’s wrong now, why am I so grumpy. Nobody ever looks beyond my RBF face. Even when I laugh, people think I’m mad, or having a lousy day.
    It’s wonderful to know that there are others so distracted by serious thoughts that people think “grouchy” the minute they look at us.
    I suppose we could consider ourselves lucky that clerks walk away without trying to sell us something, and that door to door salespeople hurry away when they see our RBF’s.

  2. Linda O'Connell says:

    I enjoyed your post and can relate. People often ask me what’s wrong. I reply, This is just my face.

  3. I absolutely love this. My RBF turned into a smiling face whilst reading this ;-)

  4. Rose Ann says:

    LOL, I am always reminding myself to smile . . . at nothing, wishing it would just freeze there. Isn’t there some saying about that???? Great essay :) :)

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