The insidious sexism of 'resting bitch face'

Can we please retire this made-up affliction?

(Image credit: Illustrated | Apple)

If you're a woman and you have a face, chances are good that at some point, you've been accused of having "resting bitch face."

Resting bitch face — also known as RBF or "bitchy resting face" — is a relatively new term in our lexicon. It's used to describe a supposed condition that causes a person to appear angry or annoyed when they're actually at ease or feeling neutral. Resting bitch face is a completely made-up affliction, and it is slung primarily at women for doing little more than having a face and not always having it arranged in a smile. The audacity.

Can 2019 please be the year we put this ridiculous insult behind us?

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The concept of resting bitch face was first popularized in a 2013 viral video as a joke and picked up speed as celebrities like Anna Kendrick bemoaned the dreaded affliction. In 2015, the New York Times wrote a trend piece called "I'm Not Mad. That's Just My RBF."

And it's still very much a thing today. Hundreds of products on Amazon tout resting bitch face. In the past year, new articles discussed the "science" behind it. On Instagram, the hashtag #restingbitchface has nearly 950,000 posts to date.

Obviously RBF is supposed to be a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek concept, but it's actually insidious and sexist. First of all, it's disproportionately used to describe women. If a man's neutral expression seems unpleasant or annoyed, that's just him getting to be a person. As country singer Kasey Musgraves once said, a more accurate name for RBF would be Resting "This Wouldn't Bother You If I Was a Guy" Face.

And then, of course, there's the fact that "bitch" is an inherently gendered word. Just like "resting tech bro face" or "resting mansplainer face" would be criticisms of men, "resting bitch face" clearly and specifically targets women. (Side note: Resting mansplainer face is definitely a real thing.)

We've finally made some progress with regard to getting people to stop telling women to smile, so why on Earth are we still cool with straight up telling a woman her face makes her look like a bitch? The two concepts are rooted in the same idea: If a woman is in public, she should appear likeable and pleasant. If she's not, she'd better fix it. Trying to add up your grocery bill in your head? Smile! Attempting to recall the name of that C-list actor you just passed on the street? Better turn that frown upside down. God forbid you look anything other than warm and approachable when you're doing little more than existing in public.

And that's really the heart of the problem: Women are constantly critiqued for how we look and act and speak. Our skirts are too short. We say "sorry" too much. We have "vocal fry" (which, incidentally, is also why we're not getting jobs). And, of course, we're not smiling enough. There's always something to fix. There's always a way we could be prettier or more pleasant or less annoying or more available.

Society's incessant policing of the female person has very real consequences. Some women even go so far as to get plastic surgery — yes, actual plastic surgery — to improve their resting expressions and avoid the dreaded RBF. In 2016, Today consulted a plastic surgeon who said that "bitchy resting face is a definite phenomenon that plastic surgeons like myself have described, just never with that term. Basically many of us have features that we inherit and/or develop with age that can make us look unpleasant, grumpy, or even, yes, bitchy."

This surgeon said he frequently performs what he calls "expression surgeries" — you know, to permanently correct said bitchiness. Those includes "grin lifts" to turn up the corners of the mouth to make people look more smiley and Botox injections to relax particularly bitchy-looking wrinkles between the eyebrows.

So, in 2019, can we please say enough is enough? Women are already so tired of trying to make everyone happy — please don't make us worry that other people will think we look like bitches when we're literally just resting. We have better things to do and bigger fish to fry.

Let's retire the concept of resting bitch face once and for all. Because you know what? That woman you see across from you on the train or in the window of a coffee shop who looks kind of pissed off? Maybe she is pissed off. Maybe she's not trying to look pleasant. Maybe that's her active bitch face — and maybe she wants us all to leave her alone.

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