You'll Look Prettier, If You Smile More: Stop Saying This To Women

Women are taught to smile from a very young age just so that they can avoid being labelled as aggressive, cold or hostile.

Vanshika nirAkula
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Imagine having a pretty hard day at work and your boss comes to your desk just to tell you that you'd look "so much prettier" if you slapped a grin on your face. Or being told by a colleague that you seemed like the "serious" uptight kind who took everything very seriously and didn't know how to have fun? A smile makes women attractive and approachable. But it is also used by society to reduce women to just being ornaments meant to lighten up the atmosphere.

Many men feel entitled to regulate women's smiles, be it at home or the workplace. They want you to smile because you will look pretty which will make them feel good about themselves. But don't let your guard down just yet because your smile can also bring the label of being troublesome and devious your way. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. So what is this laxman rekha of a smile that a woman should never cross?

Telling women to smile more: What patriarchy wants

In our culture, a woman's smile is rarely allowed to be just a smile; it's often taken as a sign of submission, docility and cooperation. Our smile is also used to judge our femininity. A woman who doesn't smile often stands the risk of being labelled as manly or masculine in her behaviour. It also decides our marriage prospects as brides-to-be are always told to smile, shyly no less when presented to a prospective groom and his parents. Who wants a bride who scowls, clearly she will try to dominate everyone.

Women are taught to smile from a very young age just so that they can avoid being labelled as "aggressive". So that men don't feel threatened by their presence and clear-headedness. Even as leaders, women are expected to perform the role with a smile on their face and convey warmth rather than ambition. On the job, women feel the pressure to smile to look accessible and yet also face concerns that it makes them look less capable of working hard.

Another issue to be examined here is- many women are employed in jobs that demand "service with a smile." Stereotyping causes women to be overrepresented in professions that require display of a smile, such as nursing, teaching, daycare, and serving as flight attendants or secretaries. Thus smiling here, becomes a symbol of providing emotional care and tending of others.

A smile shouldn't be a parameter to judge a person's capabilities or character. It is just an expression of joy and warmth. So, society needs to stop expecting women to smile to just fit into a stereotype, and rather focus on why it feels do compelled to ask women to mask their faces with a smile and only then allow them to integrate better in the society.


Views expressed are the author’s own.

Suggested Reading: Women Can’t Dare To Choose Love Over Unhappy Marriages Even Today

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