I recently had to sit in on an impromptu meeting at work after a conflict occurred in my office between co-workers. Of course, I was nervous to begin with—who really likes being in a contentious meeting with their boss and other co-workers?—even though the focus of the conversation was not on me. So imagine my surprise when the focus was thrown in my direction.
One minute I was listening calmly to the other participants talking back and forth, and the next minute my name is out there. What? I pride myself as being fair and professional at work. What could this be about?
Apparently, the complaint was that I gave my co-worker the “evil eye.”
Seriously? Are we in high school?
My initial reaction was one of amusement and annoyance combined. It amused me because, really, that is a pretty vicious thing to say. She could have said “she looks cold” or “she should smile more,” but “evil eyes”? Seeing as how I had never intended to look meanly at her, I must be looking worse than I thought!
In truth, though, this is all just a terrible misunderstanding. This is just what my face looks like.
You see, I suffer from a little-known (or, well, maybe now somewhat-more-known) syndrome called Resting B**** Face, or RBF for short. People often ask me if there is something bothering me. Almost every single one of my friends has told me that when they first met me they thought that I was giving them the stink eye. Most of the time though, my RBF is just that—resting—and I simply have no clue that I am doing it.
In fact, one of my very best friends thought that I didn’t like her for eight months before we became friends. She worked as a volunteer at an organization where my child was involved. I had somehow mistaken her as an employee at the organization (which almost makes this story worse), so when she was super sugary-sweet to my infant son I thought that she was just making obligatory pleasantries. I was always polite but quickly moved on my way.
It turns out that all her pleasant chatting was really her extending a hand of friendship. Then after I’d leave she’d say to the others, “Can you believe her? She always looks so salty!” I didn’t even know I was giving her the stink eye until months later when we started having playdates in the park. To this day, she likes to remind me how I gave her nasty looks.
So this whole RBF syndrome is not new to me. I have been dealing with it for years and have made no attempt to fix it. I mean, it clearly hasn't hindered my life that much. The subtle nod to the cultural norm that "women should smile more!" hasn't kept me from having great friendships or finding someone who loves me enough to put a ring on it and make babies with me, RBF and all. But it is one thing to have people in my personal life have mistaken first impressions. It is quite another thing when it creeps into professional life.
So how do you correct something that you don’t even recognize you are doing? Do I remind myself constantly throughout the day to appear happy, thereby looking like a deranged clown all the time? Yeah, no one will think that I have “evil eyes” then, will they?
But, then again... no. This is my face, and this is who I am.
So I have decided to instead look on the bright side. There are some plusses to having RBF. For one, it’s a good people-filter. People have to see past it in order to deal with me. If someone has bothered to get to know me well enough to befriend me, then they already made it through my built-in screening process. If someone is constantly mean-mugging you for no apparent reason, you have to really like some characteristics about them in order to get past it. Score one for me!
All joking aside, despite appearances, my RBF has led to me have more compassion for others. Knowing what it’s like to be negatively judged for my looks, I find myself more inclined to see past initial impressions with other people and to be a kinder person. So, paradoxically, having an unfriendly look has helped me act more friendly.
All this comes full circle in a way, helping the world embrace the age-old wisdom “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Knowing that I don't look friendly, I give people a bit of a free pass when I meet them, and do my best to actually be nice. When I act in friendly ways and say friendly greetings, people around me are forced to see that my RBF appearance is only skin deep. My actions speak for themselves—including cracking a smile from time to time.
And as for those who can't see past my RBF, one can only do so much. There is no cure for RBF, after all. And to those who say there is: I give you the stink eye.