Did you see the article in Saturday’s New York Times Fashion and Style section titled “I’m Not Mad. That’s Just My RBF”? In it, author Jessica Bennett writes,
For those who need a review, RBF is a face that, when at ease, is perceived as angry, irritated or simply … expressionless. It’s the kind a person may make when thinking hard about something—or perhaps when they’re not thinking at all.
“Resting bitch face” (RBF) is the latest in a list of negative terms that implies that for women (but not men), an angelic expression is the only acceptable one. Other equally flattering expressions used to describe women include “PMSing” and “On the Rag.”
By labeling a face in repose as a RBF, society suggests that only happy, positive emotions should be expressed by women—otherwise, even if you are not aware of having “the look,” you are still being a bitch!
Despite having messages like anger is unladylike and you don’t want that look frozen on your face drummed into your head, you are human, and you feel lots of things, including annoyance and anger . . . and sometimes, nothing at all.
The unrealistic expectation that a woman should always have a serene and pleasant facial expression is what I call a girly thought, one of those internalized, toxic messages about how you should look and should act that deplete your energy and misdirects your focus.
RBF Is a Toxic Girly Thought
Have you ever destroyed a candid photo of yourself wearing a RBF because you don’t want anyone to see you like that? Imagine the pressure felt by female celebrities whose RBFs have been caught on film! And according to the NYT article, “Plastic surgeons say they are fielding a growing number of requests from those who want to surgically correct their ‘permafrowns’ (again, primarily from women).”
I’m Not Mad, That’s Just How I Look
Don’t get trapped by the toxic girly thought that says you must look pleasant and happy all the time. Sometimes a face in repose is just that, not a look of anger or unhappiness.
A friend of mine who was a flight attendant many years ago tells of working a red-eye flight (which meant being on her feet and working all night). At deplaning the next morning, a male passenger thought it was amusing to instruct each female flight attendant to “Smile, sweetheart, you have nothing to be unhappy about!” She wondered how the male pilots might have reacted if told the same thing.
I invite you to take a few minutes to read the New York Times article, and then let me know how you feel about the term resting bitch face. How will you combat your own girly thoughts the next time someone asks you if you’re mad when you’re just sitting quietly?
Remember, you’ll find more ideas for getting rid of your negative self-talk in my latest book, The Girly Thoughts 10-Day Detox Plan: The Resilient Woman’s Guide to Saying NO to Negative Self-Talk and YES to Personal Power
Patricia A. O'Gorman, Ph.D., is a psychologist in private practice. She is noted for her work on women, trauma, and substance abuse and for her warm, inspiring, and amusing presentations that make complex issues accessible and even fun. She has served as a consultant to organizations across the country in preventative and clinical strategic planning. Dr. O'Gorman is a cofounder of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, and she has held positions ranging from director of a rape crisis center to clinical director of a child welfare agency, and director of the division of prevention for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). She is a veteran of numerous television appearances, including Good Morning America, Today, and AM Sunday and is the author of eight books including: The Girly Thoughts 10 Day Detox Plan (2014), The Resilient Woman: Mastering the 7 Steps to Personal Power (2013), and Healing Trauma Through Self-Parenting (2012) 12 Steps to Self-Parenting.