my first thought was about how often, and in how many ways, women are told to smile, and what bullshit that is. we should be able to arrange our faces however we want. i’ll smile when i feel like it, thanks, and if i don’t feel like it…then i won’t.
and yet…when i actually said the word smile to myself again (and again), i saw images of people’s smiling faces in my mind’s eye, like a slideshow. and as i lingered on these faces of the people i love, studied them, drank them in…i thought about how a truly genuine smile transforms a face: the way the eyes seem to transmit light, how the skin around them crinkles. how the cheeks lift, how the brow softens, how the mouth stretches and moves. how dimples appear (my wife has the most lovely, deep dimples, and i remember the heart-skipping, breathless feeling of first seeing her smile).
i thought about the power of a smile. how changes the face it graces, but also, can actually change the course of your day. i realized how dependent i am on seeing smiling faces, how important it is for me to elicit them, but also to receive them unsolicited. i thought about how hard it is not to return a smile.
there are so many varieties of smiles, too. beaming ones, full of delight. slow, mischievous smiles. dreamy ones. quick polite smiles. secret smiles between lovers. shy ones. sad, resigned ones. gentle ones, full of love. sleepy ones. impy, cheeky smiles that are on the brink of a laugh…and so so many more. just thinking about them all, i felt the corners of my own mouth turn up, funny, isn’t it?
then i meandered towards the evolution of smiles…how tiny babies begin to smile, at four or five or six weeks of age, mouth fully open, eyes wide, locking with yours, entire body vibrating with unadulterated delight. (as an older baby, i remember how daughter used to smile with her whole body, wrists and ankles rotating, breath quickening, eyes sparkling…it was my favourite. it felt like the best gift, those smiles.)
and then, depending on attachment between parents and baby, and the disposition of the baby and probably a million other things, the smile starts to change. mostly around the eyes, it seems…and also in that smiling becomes far more interdependent, and will intensify or decrease with the feedback the smiler receives from the people around them.
trust me to take a post on smiling down a grim path…but i keep on thinking of some of the pictures i have in my possession, as a baby, and a toddler, and then a little girl. some of the pictures are formal and posed, like at a portrait studio, and others more candid…it doesn’t even matter, because when i look, when i really look, i’m struck by how fucking sad i look in nearly all of them. how my smile, even when i was absolutely fucking tiny, was so guarded and contained.
i hate that. i hate that confirmation.
i hate seeing that same type of smile in pocketbrit’s baby and toddler photos. the same kind of eyes. i don’t know how to describe it other than to say it’s familiar and hurts my heart and makes me mad and definitely does not make me feel like smiling. it fills me with grief and sorrow.
i was also thinking about the evolution of the relationship between pocketbrit and i, how something as automatic and commonplace as a smile was something we didn’t share for ages. we shared all sorts of other things, but not that.
i mean, we knew what the other looked like via photos we shared, and daily goofy selfies, emojis and gifs, the occasional video…but in terms of seeing each other’s true, unedited, unplanned, spontaneously smiling face? it hasn’t even been a year, i feel like. and the first time we actually video-called each other (after months of talking about it, and then being terrified about it), guess what we ended up doing?
basically, we looked at each other and smiled for about 10 minutes (that’s all we could bear that first call, i think). think huge, dorky grins. i was so nervous but also so completely delighted to see her, to be with her in that way. it’s making me smile really big thinking of it now, too…but smiling’s such a simple, daily thing we take for granted, right? like such a basic way we interact with others? and yet, it is also such an intimate, lovely thing, that can convey so so much.
i remember thinking afterwards how completely odd it was, that she she knew the inside workings of my brain and my fears and my trauma before she knew what i looked like when i smiled. how backwards and weird and wonderful it was.
i actually googled how often we smile, and was surprised that it was only 20 times per day on average, according to this source. apparently happier people smile 40-50 times per day, and children, 400 times per day.
(okay but then i scrolled down and started to laugh so so hard…because apparently brits only smile 11 times per day, according to this study. so get a-smirking over there, friend, so you can keep up with us over here!)