Whenever I See Your Smiling Face

Jenna and Lauren express Duchenne smiles while framing my nephew David sporting a retro-eighties mouth-only male smile
Smile Jenna David Lauren

James Taylor did not sing Whenever I see Your Smiling Face about professional athletes…unless of course he was referring to Phil Mickelson or Magic Johnson. Has scowling become endemic to the upper echelon of sport? Lebron James reaction to his own great dunk makes one think someone borrowed his cell phone and returned it inside a jar of grape jelly. LeBron-James

I recently noted while watching my daughter Jenna play soccer that the tenor and tone of play, she’s a college senior, is markedly different from watching eight-year old’s play. They are much more serious than an eight-year old who is more likely to stop and pick a dandelion enroute to the goal, whereas college players feel the wrath of coaches and the not always gentle pressure of parental expectation.

I also spied a Bartlesville Bruin Football poster recently and my first reaction was the stoic nature of the mugs, but also a decidedly grumpy scowl adorning each adolescent face as if by peer caveat, an insincere attempt at machismo. Feigned male glowering seems incongruous with acne and downy facial hair. It also reminds me of my wife’s admonition against the visage of many successful athletes celebrating their success publicly with broken zygomaticus majors, stern, frowning, pouting, preening male scowling run amok. Karen’s admonition is pretty simple…”Smile”…she yells at the television, “act like you are happy you scored and quit acting mad!”

French physiologist G.B.A. Duchenne distinguished the facial sunrise of a true smile from a phony one. Phony smiles require only the zygomaticus major (muscle around the mouth), while a “real smile” involves both the lips and muscles ringing the eyes. In Duchenne’s words, one grin “obeys the will, but the second is only put into play by the sweet emotions of the soul.”

I love to watch folks who have chiseled Duchenne smiles, creased, laughing, happy skin surrounds their orbicularis oculi. They have learned through life and living and struggle and pain, through all that comedy that life can sometimes be, to smile with their eyes. smile older lady

When I think of people like that, it makes me go all James Taylor…
Whenever I see your smiling face
I have to smile myself
Because I love you (Yes, I do)
And when you give me that pretty little pout
It turns me inside out

Marianne LaFrance, a Yale psychology professor is an expert on the subject of smiles. Her book, “Why Smile? The Science Behind Facial Expression”, reveals differences between how and when women and men smile. It seems 20% of all smiles are Duchenne smiles, the smiling eyes variety. The balance of smiles are the mouth only smiles, the contrived ones, and women practice the art of intentional smiling much more often than men. Men are like those Easter Island Statues,

smile easter island

while women are professional grinners.

smile mona lisa

Katy Waldman recently wrote an article in Slate Magazine titled, The Tyranny of the Smile, and subtitled Why does everyone expect women to smile all the time? Katy quotes William Wordsworth in The Pastor, a reference to smiling being a learned behavior. “The babe not long accustomed to this breathing world, hath barely learned to shape a smile.” He’s right: More often than not, smiling is a learned behavior, “a socially contingent display.” If that babe is female, chances are she’ll catch on quickly, showering friends, acquaintances and strangers in that luminous inverted horseshoe.

Not sure what to make of all this? Perhaps women understand that it’s up to them to do the heavy lifting, the emotional labor of stitching together the social fabric of our workplaces, our families, our relationships. And men…we don’t really give a rip do we? As long as dinner is on the table and there is money in the bank, give me a reason to smile.
I’m just kidding…I think. 🙂

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