When I was young, I was taught that my emotions were not allowed. More specifically, my negative emotions. I was not supposed to be angry or sad or upset. I was not supposed to disagree with my parents in any way. I was supposed to paste a smile on my face and act like I was happy/grateful/upbeat all the time.
I have to say. Upbeat is not in my vocabulary. Not by a long shot. Even when I’m happy or elated about something, I’m very lowkey. I have had to learn in online communication that I can come across as flat, so I need to add emojis and exclamation points. I’m verbose, yet, but I’m also factual. I don’t tend to be flowery in my writing, so I can come across as dry.
In real life, I have perefcted the blank face. It’s my resting face, and I have to actively add emotion to it if I don’t want to be perceived as being emotionless. I had a Taiwanese roommate once tell me that he could not see a guy asking me out. This did not come out of nowhere, by the way. I was complaining about being hit on as I did my moring walk. At least once a week, a guy would try to come onto me. It was always white and black guys, though–never Asian guys.
When my Taiwanese roommate said this, I retorted that not all guys were afraid of a strong womnan. It wasn’t very tactful of me, but he hadn’t been tactful, either. He was very much into the steretoypical Asian woman, but then he would complain about how bored he was of the women he was dating.
Not only had I trained myself not to show my emotions, but I also trained myself not to show pain. Physical pain, I mean. As a result, my pain threshold is insanely high. When we were doing chin na (joint manipulation) techniques in Taiji, this was a problem. You’re supposed to tap out when the pain was too much, but I would never tap out. Not because I was trying to be hard, but because I truly could not feel it.
My teacher finally decided that I could only practice with her because she did not want me to be hurt. She was the only one experienced enough to realize when to back off without me having to tap out. She talked to her teacher about it and one time, he was in our class to practice/watch. He suggested i stand on my tiptoes, and then i was abble to feel the pain. I did, and he demonstrated. I automatically felt the pain and tapped out. He said that when you were on your toes (generic you), you can’t tense up your muscles/joints.
In general, though, I have an insanely high pain tolerance. I’m not happy about it, but it’s not worth working on. I want to be more relaxed, yes. I want to release the tension in my shoulders and back, yes. Feeling more pain? Nah, I’m good, thanks.
Back to my face. I’ve been reading letters in Ask A Manager about employees who react negatively to critical feedback. Alison has long advocated that if someone cries, give them a minute to pull themselves together, but then continue on in a matter-of-fact way. If the employee has herself mostly under control, then the manager should politely ignore the tears.
Things get more ocntentious when talking about the actual faces the employee makes. There was a letter from someone who said she was an open book. For better or worse, you knew what she was thinking at any time by looking at her face. She said that she tried for years to modulate her face, but she finally gave up because she just couldn’t do it.
Alison gave her practical steps she could take to mitigate the situation, but the debate raged on in the comments. Most people were of the belief that she had to keep her face neutral and that she could do it. They pointed out that she probably made her colleagues uncomfortable if she was grimacing and scowling at them throughout the day.
There was a sizable minority who disagreed. They said that you could get a neutral face from them or you could get them thinking productively, but you could not have both. They were neurodivergent people, which made sense. It’s one of those things that seemed obvious to normies–of course you could control your face.
Here’s the thing. I do think there’s a line somewhere. I’m not sure where it is, but it’s there. I would agree that you cannot roll your eyes and scowl at your colleagues. But, I also don’t think you should be penalized for having a resting bitch face. Then there’s me who has a resting blank face, which apparently freaks people out, too. That’s the thing. Women are judged so harshly for their looks. Men are allowed to have a wider range of emotions and facial expressions. There was a letter from a manager who had a needy employee. The manager described how her employee would react negatively to any feedback. This was during the pandemic. She did not specify what she meant by her employee showing her displeasure, but the commentariat was too happy to suggestsulking, pouting, and a wobble in her voice. And these were women!
Someone pointed out that the LW had not actually specified what she meant by ‘show displeasure’ and could we not? It’s interesting. The women who read AAM are mostly very progressive, would probably call themselves feminists, and yet, they fell into stereotypical descriptions fairly quickly. It’s all around us and it’s difficult to escape.
I have a hard time making my face anything but neutral. If I worked in an office and had to do performative facial expressions, it would not go well for me. I think I could do it in a meeting, but then I would not be concentrating on what’s being said. Ian told me that my tell for being impatient/frustrated is that I cut my eyes up and to the…left I think? I did not know that, but once he told me, I tried to stop doing it. It’s hard, though, because it was such a habit. In the end, I decided it was not worth it to try to stop doing it.
Which brings us back to my point. This is my face. It is what it is. It’s not going to change very much for the rest of my days. I’ve accepted it, and now I have peace in my heart.