Have you heard of Resting Bitch Face? It’s the fun, slangy way to refer to the phenomenon where some people frequently look angry, disdainful, or contemptuous, even if they aren’t. Notable famous people with this trait include Queen Elizabeth, actresses Kristen Stewart and Anna Kendrick, and Kanye West. You may notice that my handful of examples is skewed toward women, and this is not an accident. Resting Bitch Face, or RBF, is often thought to affect women more than men.
However, scientists have now proven that RBF occurs in men and women equally. It’s an equal opportunity trait! Unfortunately, the perceived bias probably indicates that society tends to value (and perhaps expect) a happy, pleasant expression from a woman more than a man.
Anyway, returning to the research instead of depressing social commentary, scientists used software which examines and maps 500 points on the human face, and analyzes based on eight emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, disgust, contempt, and neutral. Then, they selected a series of expressionless faces to assess, of which only about 3% came back with a blip of emotion, like a hint of sadness or surprise.
Next, they analyzed photos of some of the aforementioned famous RBF examples, and the level of emotion detected by the software doubled, because it was picking up contempt. This emotion was indicated in the facial expressions by subtle signals such as one side of a lip pulled back slightly, or tightness around the eyes. In other words, contempt was read through facial characteristics or slightly asymmetrical features likely outside of the person’s control.
Curious if you have RBF? There are instructions at the link where you can submit your photo and find out. I’m not sure if I will send mine in, but I’m pretty sure I’m a fellow RBF-er. If you’re a hermit like me, it can be handy because you look too angry for people to want to talk to you on the train.
I also stumbled across an amusing list of alternatives to Resting Bitch Face, which I highly recommend checking out. I selected a few of my favourites to share here. RBF might be out of a person’s control, but let’s embrace some of these other useful expressions. I feel certain I must make at least one of these per day.
I Would Prefer Not to Face
This is All a Bunch of Bureaucratic Nonsense Face
A Smidge of Self-Awareness Would Not Go Amiss Face
This Email Is Surely a Joke Face
This Is an Astonishing Waste of Time Face
Yes I Really Do Just Want to Sit Here and Read My Book Unmolested Face
That Is Not What I Meant At All Face
You’re Clearly Struggling With My Failure to Conform to Your Stupid Expectations Face
My protagonist in my (nearly complete!) WIP is currently in a scene where she needs to make I Would Prefer Not to Face. I almost wish I could describe it thusly (that’s right, I said thusly) instead of trying to figure out what position a person’s eyebrows are in when embroiled with reluctance. Confession: occasionally when I need to describe a subtle facial expression, I try it out in the mirror. Please tell me other writers do this too.