Raise your hand if you’re familiar with the cultural RBF phenomenon. All of a sudden men, women, and the media are referring to women who don’t automatically assume a pleasant-to-look-at expression, typically when they aren’t engaging in conversation, as suffering from RBF.
I’m conflicted in the way I feel about its etymology. On one hand, it seems as if the slang has spread because we love new ways to categorize women, especially women who we see as deviating from an acceptable version of femininity (white, friendly, poised, pretty). On the other hand, I have noticed many women proudly owning their RBF and wearing it as a badge of honor in a sort of “she persisted” defiance to the idea that women should always look happy.
Yes! You can find me pumping my fist in support from the sidelines. Because, you see, I have the opposite of RBF; I suffer from Resting Nice Face. I have wide eyes and open features. I am neither young- nor old-looking. I have long hair framing a round face. I almost always have children with me. And while I am not in the habit of often starting conversations, I must look like I’m waiting for someone else to start one with me.
I clearly give off a “do no harm” vibe. I attract the conversation of bored patrons who wait in line behind me while at the bank or cafe. I find myself in numerous, “You didn’t hear this from me…” types of conversation with casual acquaintances. I listen to a lot of new people tell me about upcoming surgeries or vacations while we sit in waiting rooms.
RNF and the Introvert
I don’t dislike these interactions, and in fact, I have a lot of respect for friendly people who always know how to strike up a conversation with strangers. They share the personal tidbits of their lives much more freely than I do; I admire their authenticity. But I do find conversations with strangers to be arduous because I’m a total introvert. At best, I feel socially awkward when I have to engage in small talk. My cheeks get red and hot and I fumble around when it’s time to hold up my end of the conversation. I prefer to mostly listen.
A bigger part of me than I like to admit often gets annoyed and angry. My approachability doesn’t seemed dampened by things like reading in public or wearing headphones, being clearly busy with a task (like stuffing my toddler back into her mittens that have fallen off again), or closed off body language. It seems like I am always fair game; people constantly want to engage with me. Some days, I feel like I am nothing more than a sponge absorbing the neediness of others.
Case in Point
My three year old is cranky and clinging to me, my kindergartener is whining about not getting to go to McDonald’s, we’ve got at least two more stops to make before we can head home, I can’t find the grocery aisle with the chia seeds, and now I’m somehow in a conversation with a person who tells me her second cousin’s daughter has red hair like my little one. Or did, when she was alive. She died ten, no was it twelve? Twelve-ish years back in a horrifying car accident. The whole family was devastated.
By the time I get home, I’m drained, snapping at everyone, and feeling guilty. Why am I angry at someone who clearly just wanted a few seconds of my time? Of a little connection with a friendly face? Because I’m frustrated that someone else’s emotional burdens were shifted onto my shoulders, even momentarily. Don’t people realize that I have my own problems to worry about?
Turning It Into a Superpower
I’m ashamed of my sourpuss attitude on tough days like that. Because having a Resting Nice Face can invite a lot of positivity in my life, too. It’s my superpower. Owning a non-intimidating aura helps me connect with people: shy moms like me who are looking for a kindred spirit during story hour at the library, babies and kids and pets who feel comfortable approaching me, people with truly fascinating stories who honor me by skipping the small talk and moving straight into deeper conversations.
Connecting with people can fill up my cup if I let it. It can widen my perspective on the world around me and remind me to keep growing in empathy and kindness. I won’t lie, I still have to actively remind myself of these things regularly, especially on the days when my battery is low and all I want to do is find some alone time to recharge. Instead, I need to tell myself to take a deep breath and smile when my Resting Nice Face catches someone’s eye and they move to close the gap between us.