Caroline Donofrio

Hello, my name is Caroline and I am not smiling as I type this…

Because I am not smiling, one might assume that I am upset, or worried, or perhaps just contemplative. Maybe I had a bad weekend. Maybe I’m really stressed about work or nursing a broken heart or silently grappling with a case of indigestion.

The answer is none of the above. I am just typing. And this is just my face.

I recently stumbled across a bunch of old photos and unearthed the above gem of me, age four, at Disney World. Look at that unbridled joy. Isn’t that what every child looks like when deposited at the kingdom of happiness?

I remember this trip and can assure you, I was happy. I had just met Goofy at a pancake breakfast! Cinderella hugged me! My mom let me eat Pringles from the hotel mini bar! Again I will sing my lifelong refrain: This is just my face.

There are many more examples where this came from. Blank faced behind a side table. Regarding a flock of ducks with a look of pure consternation. Looking perturbed to be heading to my first school dance. Discovering these photos was strangely affirming, as they answered a question that had plagued me for some time: Had something happened to make me this way? Had years’ worth of urban ennui found its way into my heart and caused my face to freeze up like an unfeeling garden statue?

No, apparently not. It simply was — and always has been — my face.

Appearances aside, most of the time, I am actually content. I regularly think things like, “What a nice day!” or “Gosh, how wonderful it is to participate in this mystery that is life!” But when thinking such things, I just happen to look like this.

I have a theory that if I were a man, this would be seen as a positive. People would say things like:

“That Larry, he’s so focused.”
“He’s so deep and brooding and dreamy.”
“An absolute terror to negotiate with! Always gets what he wants.”
“And you should see him play poker!”

But I am a woman. So I must be upset.

You know those old photos of James Dean or Elvis where they’re leaning on some vehicle, looking like a cross between deciding which sandwich to order and mentally doing calculus? This was considered attractive. Why can’t I be granted this same courtesy? Instead, I am assaulted with a bevy of concern and confusion.

“Are you okay?”
“Did I do something to upset you?”
“You’re such an enigma!”

This. Is. Just. My. Face.

As best as anyone can tell, the concept of resting bitch face (“A person, usually a woman, whose face appears unintentionally mean when it is at rest”) entered the scene in the early aughts. But as a facial phenomenon, it has been happening for centuries.

Joan of Arc? Bitchface. Ruth Bader Ginsburg? Bitchface. Sandra Oh? Total, unabashed bitchface. See also: Rihanna. Anna Wintour. Queen Elizabeth… I rest my case.

So I’d like to request a change in terminology. How about something like resting LEGEND face? Even, like, resting mystery face would be preferable.

My woman-face does not exist for the world’s collective amusement. I have things to do and life to live — and all kinds of thoughts to think. Sometimes I, too, look like I may be ordering a sandwich while mentally doing calculus, and that is okay. I am not a bitchface, resting or otherwise. I am just a face, standing in front of the world, asking it to love me.

There are a lot of things in this crazy universe to be concerned about. Climate change. Midterm elections. Whatever happens when we die. As much as is humanly possible, I remain hopeful. Though my face will never give me away.

P.S. On happiness and the five words that changed everything.