SMILE! Men say this to me all the time. Everywhere I go. In response, I force a little smile and hustle along on my way, but I immediately dislike myself for doing so. Why can't I just unapologetically walk around with my normal default facial expression (and introverted disposition)? If I were a man, I could.

I once figured "smile!" was an NYC-centric phenomenon, what with us all bumping up against one another on the sidewalks all the time, but no. It has followed me out to the 'burbs. Just the other day, a male employee at the Union, N.J., Costco sidled up to my cart to issue a "You'd look so much prettier if you smiled." Seriously? Can't an exhausted mom just shop for her food-service-size plastic canister of Jelly Bellys in peace, without smiling prettily for the pleasure of any men who may be looking at her?

The answer is apparently no, but at least one woman has come up with a better response than just pasting on a smile, as I was delighted to read over at The Atlantic today. Brooklyn-based artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh got sick of what she calls "gender-based street harassment" and has been fighting back with a public art series called Stop Telling Women to Smile. She sits down with women to talk about their own experiences with unwanted comments from men they don't know and asks them what they want to say to those men. She puts those words on portraits of the women and posts them on the street.




Now obviously street harassment can get much more serious than a mere "smile," as the women's anecdotes in the Atlantic video convey. And I know there are some of you out there—perhaps those who are naturally more outgoing than me and do not suffer from resting bitchface—who will argue that guys are just trying to be friendly when they make this common comment. I agree that some of these men seem nice enough (others aren't and, as one of Tatyana's portrait subjects notes, get angry when you don't respond to them in the way they want). But I would prefer not to have people commenting on my mood. I don't tell random men to cheer up because it's not so bad. I don't tell them they would be more handsome if they smiled and then expect them to flash me a sweet smile in return, or else heckle them.


Meanwhile, I can't wait to hit up Costco wearing one of Tatyana's "stop telling women to smile" T-shirts. Because I know it will only prove my point and make at least 19 men come up and say, "But you would be prettier if you smiled!"

What's your stance on the whole "smile" thing? Do guys say this to you often? Does it bother you if they do?

Maryan Barbara
Maryan Barbara

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