Why do people comment on my facial expression?
December 7, 2011 12:23 PM   Subscribe

A bit of an odd question: I'm a teacher, administrator and Masters student. Over the years, students, classmates and colleagues have commented on the fact that I'm "always smiling". I think I do consciously smile, having been brought up to believe that it makes me more approachable and pleasant looking. People don't comment negatively - it's more neutral, as in "You know what I notice about you? You're always smiling." I've considered that they might see my expression as phony, but I don't think that's the case. I've never commented on another person's habitual facial expression. What would cause you to do so? In other words, why do so many people tell me that I'm "always smiling"?

(I'm really curious to know what would make people regularly comment on my expression - hopefully this is not chatfilter!)
posted by smilingtiger to Society & Culture (35 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Because it's rare. People don't smile enough, so we notice when someone is smiling. Notice it enought times on the same person, and we'll mention it.

Take it as a light compliment, something between "you always wear nice shoes" or "you always know the right thing to say."

I just noticed that, on MetaFilter, you're always smilingtiger.
posted by gauche at 12:28 PM on December 7, 2011 [7 favorites]

You probably make them happy and want you to know that you do.

They might also be trying to get you to smile if you're not.

you might also have a gorgeous smile with white white straight teeth and the smile extends to your eyes.
posted by royalsong at 12:29 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Whoops. "and", not "or" up there.
posted by gauche at 12:30 PM on December 7, 2011

One of the receptionists at my last job has what my old boss called a "smiling face". Something about her or her face shape, I don't know, but she was always in smile mode I guess. Do you have nice cheeks? An upturned mouth? A rounder face?

I kind of didn't like her for it (at the time) because I have a bitch face. The kind that random men like to say "Smile! It can't be that bad" to. And then the bitch face gets worse. Anyway, I couldn't really figure out what made her face a smiling face. People really liked her though.
posted by mokeydraws at 12:34 PM on December 7, 2011

why do so many people tell me that I'm "always smiling"?

Because you are? They're making conversation, that's all.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 12:37 PM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Personally, if I know someone who always wears the expression of any specific emotion I view it as either a sign of pathos or phony, which I guess is itself a sign of pathos.

So, unless you really mean your neutral expression is generally calm and.or contented, I wouldn't trust you. I might bring it up to try to ascertain "your deal."
posted by cmoj at 12:38 PM on December 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

My brother's best man made the very same observation of my sister in law at their wedding. It was meant as a compliment. I believe it was meant as such in your case as well.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:40 PM on December 7, 2011

Could be just that you have a smiley-looking default expression. I get lots of comments about how I look vaguely pissed off about something.

It is a compliment. Most people, myself included, are in awe of people who show up every day with a smile on their face. Either they like what they do or they're good actors, both of which are enviable.

Whatever traits you have, though, you'll always get multiple comments about the one or two things that are most distinctive about you. I get comments about my nose - it's not that people are actively looking at noses, or that I have a spectactularly unusual nose, it's just a thing about me that's a little more distinctive than my hair or my eyes.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:40 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

People always tell me to "Cheer up it will never happen" even when I'm happy, my neutral expression just looks sad or grumpy depending on who you ask. I'd suggest that you have a naturally happy expression, it's a nice thing to have so I wouldn't worry about it, at least you won't find out after meeting people they were afraid to talk to you because you looked so grumpy, when all you was doing was daydreaming.
posted by wwax at 12:42 PM on December 7, 2011

Totally a compliment. The times (only a handful of times) I've mentioned this to people it's been because it made me happy to see someone out and about that seemed to be that happy just being.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 12:43 PM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

I get this too. It's a complement. You're giving off a positive attitude, and people generally like that. As an alternative, imagine working with someone who never smiled and never looked happy - that can be a bit of a downer, so it's just nice to be around someone who gives off that pleasant aura.

In particular, I've gotten comments from coworkers about it when I'm in the middle of quiet work at my desk. I've noticed most people's thinking faces are pretty stern and devoid of emotion, but mine's the opposite because I emote a lot while I work. They may be reacting to that.

Do you have a strong internal voice that likes to say positive things or crack jokes? Do you find yourself walking about your day and suddenly grinning to yourself? These are kind of unusual - many people don't have much in the way of an internal voice - so it's possible you're underestimating how often you smile for no apparent reason and people are reacting to that.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 12:59 PM on December 7, 2011

People comment on anything and everything that surprises them. The feeling of surprise causes people to vocalise whatever is in their head, however inappropriate or inane it might be. Hence "Wow, you're so tall", "My, how you've grown", "Wow, are you pregnant?" as well as "What a lovely dress!" or "You've had your hair cut".
posted by emilyw at 1:02 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Absolutely a compliment. Oh, and just reading your post about how you're always smiling put a big smile on my face. Thanks!
posted by seriousmoonlight at 1:05 PM on December 7, 2011

I get this a lot too, and for a long time was mildly curious about why.

Then I had to do this presentation which was videotaped, and they accidentally left the camera on during the lunch break, so there was a good hour or so of tape of me sitting at the desk eating, writing down notes, and occasionally interacting with people. Watching this I discovered that whenever I was alone my face would drop into a neutral expression, and whenever I was interacting with someone else I'd put on this big goofy grin. I wasn't conscious of doing it, and it's not because I was particularly happy to see some of those people; it's just an apparently ingrained habit.

So maybe the reason people tell you you smile a lot is because you smile a lot. And that's unusual enough to be worth commenting on.
posted by ook at 1:06 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's the same as "You're so tall!" A compliment, a general observation about something unusual, but really just noting something so they'll have something to talk about.

And, also like "You're so tall," can lead to self-consciousness.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:11 PM on December 7, 2011

My son is always smiling (he will be one year old tomorrow!) and people remark on it a lot. He is very popular and I think it's mostly because of his countenance. A smiling face makes people happy, and it's unusual enough to be remarkable.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:15 PM on December 7, 2011

Do you happen to be from the non-New England/mid-Atlantic area, now living/working in that area?

My Californian coworker and I (a Midwesterner) get that all the time. We're not naturally happier, we were just raised to always default to a smiling, pleasant expression -- at least, apparently, compared to my East Coast born-and-bred coworkers.

(On reviewing your past questions it appears you're Canadian. I don't know the analogous cultural regions in Canada, but is it possible that's still the answer?)
posted by olinerd at 1:21 PM on December 7, 2011

People just do it to make conversation. It drives me crazy. If I'm wearing my coat because the building is sixty degrees, I can make a tally of people who will say, "You look cold!" They're wearing coats, as well, so everyone knows it's cold. there are more perceptive ways to start a conversation.
posted by amodelcitizen at 1:50 PM on December 7, 2011

People probably comment to you that you are always smiling because it's sort of an unusual thing to always be doing. Most people have either a blank expression much of the time, or a slight scowl (like when they are concentrating on something), so to see a people just pleasantly smiling away all the time is a bit out of the ordinary. Not bad, just not altogether normal.

I think you should see this as a compliment though, like people generally commenting that you have really good taste in clothes, or really nice hair most of the time. It's certainly a nicer thing to have people say about you than, "I've noticed that you're always kind of smelly," or, "I seem to notice that you're always looking hurried," would be.

And if you are very, very concerned about what you are doing that makes people notice your mouth all the time, set up a video camera (your phone?) and just let it run on you for a few hours. Watch it later about three hours into the tape (by which point you've presumably gotten used to it, or forgotten about it altogether), and see what you look like. Maybe that'll show what other people are seeing.

In other news: I used to know a lady who constantly smiled, and it creeped everybody out. It wasn't the fact that she was smiling that was creepy, but the way she smiled that got on people's nerves; it was an over-warm, rictus sort of grin; so tight it looked as if it hurt her. She also worked with small children. The whole situation was creepy, but that's totally different to your situation...
posted by Pecinpah at 1:54 PM on December 7, 2011

Thank you all! And yes, I am indeed practicing the time-honored Meta-art of beanplating. (As to geography, this has happened to me when I was living in Japan as well as here, so it's probably not a regional thing.) All of your answers were wonderful and made me smile.
posted by smilingtiger at 2:56 PM on December 7, 2011

Oh, and in case anyone's still reading this - how should I respond? It seems inappropriate to say "thank you" since this isn't a straightforward compliment. I usually go off on a tangent about why I'm usually smiling which is a bit awkward. What, if anything, should I say?
posted by smilingtiger at 3:06 PM on December 7, 2011

Not that this is directly relevant to your question, but you might find this previous Metafilter thread interesting, especially rhiannon's comment near the bottom. From what I've read, smiling is interpreted as a submissive behavior in humans and other primates, and I've certainly had men ask me to smile in what I've considered attempted displays of dominance over me (I'm a woman). I'm not sure how or if this relates to your situation - it sounds like you may just be a naturally smiley person, or that you come from a family or culture where a smiley expression is the default. But it might be interesting to consider. A quick Google reveals some articles and bibliographies about it.
posted by UniversityNomad at 3:10 PM on December 7, 2011

What, if anything, should I say?

I get this a lot, and generally go with disarmingly inane when responding:
"You're always smiling"
"I am!" *smiles*
posted by ellieBOA at 3:17 PM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

I often get this as my default face is naturally smiley add to that 7 years of customer interactions and I have to think about not smiling. I think people comment on it to be nice. Some have just said things like "you have such a nice smile". I have always just smiled and said thank you. My baby son looks just like dad until he smiles, then its all me. I see now that our smiles are full face smiles that go right to our eyes. We both have round faces and high rosy cheeks. Maybe you have a similar face shape?
posted by saradarlin at 3:27 PM on December 7, 2011

I, too, look sad and/or angry even when I'm not. Combine that with severe acne scars and it's a huge problem.

It must be, as with me, the way your mouth is shaped, and you probably also have a nice smile besides that, which extends to your eyes, as noted above.

You are so fortunate!
posted by jgirl at 3:46 PM on December 7, 2011

I always assume this is just people's easy way of engaging in small talk.

it may also be that you are a tiger and as such they find your teeths big and sharp and scary.
posted by elizardbits at 4:14 PM on December 7, 2011

If people thought you were being fake, they wouldn't comment on it. The fact that they do suggests that they understand that it's genuine, it's just who you are / how your face is in repose / your natural way of interacting with people. Take it as a compliment. "Thank you" or "that's just me" are completely acceptable ways of responding.

Don't change!
posted by finding.perdita at 4:59 PM on December 7, 2011

I'm pretty much like ook. Smiling is my default facial expression when interacting with people. In my case I trace it back to a childhood where I moved at least once a year til I was 8 or 9. When you're an introverted new kid in a room full of strangers, smiling is a safe way to blend in and get people to like you. (Possibly subconsciously because of the smiling/subservience connection mentioned above. "I'm a nice, friendly, harmless new kid. Please be nice to me.") That facial tic, once learned, carries over into adulthood. I've gotten the "you're always so smiley!" thing for years. I do think mostly people mean it as a compliment.
posted by MsMolly at 5:20 PM on December 7, 2011

What, if anything, should I say?

"You know, I get that a lot!"
posted by unknowncommand at 6:58 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a friend who has a wonderful open smile and who genuinely likes people. She's great to be around. It's not a submissive smile by any means, as she can get downright growly if need be (but then the sun comes out again.)

If you don't feel like your faking it, then just be your sunny self and know that you are wonderful to be around and can help someone like me with a scowly expression grin more often.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:25 PM on December 7, 2011

People oftentimes internalize each other's emotions when they converse. If you smile when you talk with people, they will remember your warmth and it will make them happy too.

Personally, I'm a bit shy so when I talk with people I enjoy talking to, I focus on enjoying the moment so that I don't get nervous. I'm told that comes across as smiling a lot or exuding a lot of positivity. It's not negative feedback - like, not inappropriately flirtatious or insincere, just amplifying the natural happiness of a good conversation. Perhaps you've got a similar dynamic going on?
posted by SakuraK at 9:50 PM on December 7, 2011

do not take their "you're always smiling" comments personally, your smile brightens people's days. it's comforting knowing that there are people that are genuinely happy to be around others and your facial expression, sincerity, and warmth AND your position as a teacher, student, and administrator makes you someone that people can trust because you seem so sincere. but at the same time, realize that it's okay NOT to smile when you don't want to. i think people ignore that part, but if you are known as the joker or person that laughs a lot, then realize that it's healthy to express other emotions depending on how you are feeling.

i know that when i tell someone that i appreciate how they tell it like it is, that i do not mean anything negative from it. it's just refreshing knowing that some people tell it like it is without taking part in social politics. so, when someone tells you that you are always smiling say thank you and wink if possible but don't do that in a creepy way. for what it's worth, if i was in your position then i would also respond similarly haha
posted by sincerely-s at 11:34 PM on December 7, 2011

Consider yourself lucky! I get the opposite all the time "You look so dour" "You look so angry" "you look tired" and so on. You totally win the facial expressions game!
posted by Blake at 7:25 AM on December 8, 2011

It could be related to your environment, too. None of my professors ever smiled... against the scholarly gravitas code or some such.
posted by Jacen at 8:21 AM on December 8, 2011

Just a correction. Smiling is only seen as an expression of submission or fear in species with strict dominance hierarchies. One of my primate sociocultural Professors brought up the fact that we smile to show friendship/happiness as a sign that we've been pretty egalitarian for a while. So don't worry about appearing submissive, you aren't a macaque.

The reason why young women are often told to smile is because they are often seen by older men as fixtures and expected to be pleasant to look at.
posted by avagoyle at 7:48 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

« Older Ceiling cat is watching you macerate   |   Soft baby clothes Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.