Recently, somebody told me, “Smile, you never know who’s watching.” Remind me – am I supposed to care who’s watching? Is it my job as a female to go around looking like a lunatic so other people won’t think negative things about me? Is this the part where I give two fucks? Can a person ever really give enough fucks to make ‘other people’ happy? I guess I didn’t respond quickly enough, so they said, “A pretty girl like you should smile more.” Pretty girls are required to respond and tend to the egos of surrounding somebodies. These are the rules of being female. We must acknowledge all who need to feel acknowledged. We must do penance for the wounds of pretty-girls-past.
I was so inspired and uplifted by this reminder of my true worth. I immediately started walking with a spring in my step and a desire to break into song; high-pitched, operatic, heavy-on-the-vibrato song. I think cartoon birds flew out of my ass right at that moment and started circling my head singing show tunes as little cartoon bunnies frolicked at my feet. It is my job, after all, as a female, to show all of my teeth all the time and decorate the world with my delightfulness. I am responsible as a female for everyone else’s happiness. Because someone might be watching. My value as a pretty girl is to be adorable. Welcoming. Charming. Positive. If I’m going through something difficult, I am responsible for putting a smile on my face and being inspirational to others, or I might be accused of…gasp…negativity.
If I break down and cry sometimes, someone might shove a kleenex box in my direction while they say deep, philosophical things like, “Big girls don’t cry,” and “If it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger.” Yes, I know! Life has fifty-fifty shot of killing me. Actually, a one-hundred percent shot at some point in the journey. I wasn’t concerned about my mortality relative to what I’m feeling at this exact moment. Can I just be messy for five minutes of my life? Can I just be however I need to be to survive this moment? Because I know the future will probably work out, but this is me right now. Just let me be me today. But I digress… What’s important is other people’s perceptions, not my emotional health and authenticity. Not my ability to buy eggs at the grocery store uninterrupted. Focus!
Maybe if I try hard enough to make ‘other people’ happy, I will win their approval, then they will like me and a handsome prince will fall in love with me and rescue me from a life of sure loneliness in a house full of cats and endless reruns of 90s sitcoms. But here’s the problem. I love cats. And my ability to score very high on 90s sitcom trivia is a source of great pride for me. Throw in a jigsaw puzzle and we’ve got a winner. Here’s another problem – I already have a handsome prince who loves me very much and let’s me be my messy self and continues to love me. The problem, you ask? He was standing right next to me, not smiling, looking every bit as solemn, tired and stressed out as ever, and no one gave a fuck whether he was smiling or not. But that’s okay, he has a penis and facial hair. No smiling required. Keep emitting those male pheromones and all is right with the world.
And the biggest problem of all? I am not a pretty girl. I am a grown ass woman. I have accomplishments. Opinions. Feelings. Depth. Complicated grown-up problems like everyone else. I have a heart full of joy and passion about many things, whether I’m smiling or not. But I also battle PTSD, which causes depression and anxiety, and I have a complex chronic illness that has caused me pain every day for the better part of 20 years. Getting up every single day and getting out of bed is hard for me. But I do it. I dig deep each day and tell myself I can do it. I may be standing there not smiling because I’m trying to shop while in pain, not because I’m unhappy. Or maybe I’m contemplating the price of tea in China. This is nobody else’s business but mine and the ones I love.
I don’t have cartoon birds flying out my ass, but I crawl out of bed sometimes at the crack of dawn and go into the woods to say goodnight to the owls and coyotes as they eat their bedtime snacks, then sit with the deer, the bunnies and the chirping birds as the sun breaks through the trees. I connect. I connect with them, I connect with me, I connect with the trees. And, no, I’m not doing it while singing, “With a smile and a song….” There is no frolicking – just stillness. I connect with my divine source. I tell myself, “You can make it today. You can make it step by step by step. You’ve done it before, you can do it again.” And I do. I go home and put on the coffee. I pick out my clothes, and I choose them carefully, because I fight hard to be here everyday so I deserve to feel beautiful. Who doesn’t? I take time to put on my makeup, even though most days no other humans will see me. I do it for me. I smile for me. I laugh for me. I cry for me.
Once in a while, I go out into the world. I do the shopping, run the errands, have a little fun. No one can know as I walk through the store, how hard it was to get there. How hard it was to do all the steps involved. How happy I am just to be out. Until one person decides to single me out among the ‘other people’ to judge my facial expression while I’m doing normal things like a normal person, simply because I have a face that draws their attention and they have attached expectations to that face. Thank you, random stranger for emotionally hijacking me in the middle of my day out, treating me as though I stand out from the masses around me, yet rendering me invisible all at the same time. You meant well. But the moment it becomes about what-you-meant, it becomes all about you-and-your-intentions, not me and my feelings. I suppose one could say, “Quit caring so much about what other people think,” but it’s not about what ‘other people’ think. It’s about what happens when opinions become words; how well-meaning words can be hurtful, objectifying, unnecessary and dismissive. Next time, instead of someone telling me that I should smile, maybe they could smile at me and say, “Hello.” It would really make my day.
6 thoughts on ““Smile! You Never Know Who’s Watching…” and Other B.S.”
“I think cartoon birds flew out of my ass right at that moment…” That’s gold.
Yikes! I can imagine. Daria-like qualities – I really like that description. A fellow 90s T.V. aficionado! I feel like we live in a world these days where everyone is expected to give themselves away, but a person’s internal world is a treasure that should be discovered. It takes time to know and understand a person. But there’s this expectation that you are supposed to be easy to figure out immediately and when a person isn’t, there is a discomfort for some people. We’re writers and thinkers. There’s always a certain amount of detached observation that goes along with that. It’s actually a superpower, but highly misunderstood.
Grrr. I absolutely hate it when men tell me to smile, but I love that you wrote this post. “Can I just be messy for five minutes of my life? Can I just be however I need to be to survive this moment”. That really spoke to me, as I know this feeling all to well. I also have an invisible illness that many don’t understand (Crohn’s Disease). Anyway, thanks for speaking up. There’s strength that comes from knowing we are not alone.
Wow, Crohn’s is such a tough thing to live with. I’ve had people close to me in my life with Crohn’s. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and share with me. There really is strength in numbers, and the more we put it out there, the less power it has. Wishing you wellness and a beautiful day.
I got that ‘smile, what’s the worst that could happen?’ an awful lot and my only regret is that I didn’t just punch them square in the face every time… I’ll smile when and where I want to!
Exactly! It’s so frustrating…