“This is just what my face looks like.”
It was the first day of my freshman year of high school. My sister, a senior, had told all of her friends to be nice and welcoming if they happened to run into me between classes. During lunch hour, my sister came up to me, worried.
“Are you okay? Mel said she saw you in the hall and you looked like you were out to get someone. Jackie said you gave her mad stink eye.”
Me: “Uh, I don’t think I did. That’s just how my face looks.”
So began my struggle with what’s known as “resting bitch face,” or alternatively, “resting bitchy face.” RBF, a syndrome that [probably] affects millions worldwide, is characterized by a neutral expression that is often percieved as unimpressed, uninterested or just, well, bitchy.
For most of its history, resting bitch face has been self-diagnosed by people who are often asked “rough day?” by cab drivers or told “you’d be a lot prettier if you smiled” by dickheads on the street. We found comfort in celebrities like Anna Kendrick, Kristen Stewart, and Aubrey Plaza who know what we’re going through.
But now science has confirmed the legitimacy of RBF with a measurable diagnostic test. Behavioral researchers at Nordus Information Technology, Jason Rogers and Abbe Macbeth, analyzed over 10,000 expressions with their patented FaceReader technology. They found that the average person’s neutral expression is composed of 97% neutral signals and 3% underlying emotions, while a certain subset of people show twice the amount of underlying emotions in their neutral countenance.
When researchers ran photos of certified RBF celebs like Anna Kendrick and K. Stew through their program, they found a spike in the emotion of “contempt”—the x-factor behind resting bitch face. But it’s not strictly a female phenomenon. Celebrities like Kanye West also scored exceptionally high on the RBF test (shocker).
“RBF isn’t necessarily something that occurs more in women,” explained Macbeth, “but we’re more attuned to notice it in women because women have more pressure on them to be happy and smiley and to get along with others.”
Oh yeah, I feel that. So I decided to take the FaceReader test and find out, once and for all, if I have the resting bitch face I’ve long suspected.
Spoiler alert: yes. My neutral expression spiked in anger and contempt, with a sprinkle of disgust and surprise thrown in. On the upside, the program thinks I have a youthful glow—aging me somewhere between 10 and 20—and kindly ignored my dark feminine mustache.
So what causes resting bitch face (or resting jerk face, if you’d prefer a less gendered term)? Rogers and Macbeth don’t have all the answers, but they suspect culture plays a role (Eastern European descent, check) as well as genetics (naturally downturned mouth, double check). But most of all, it has to do with how you hold your face.
Macbeth described the classic RBF look as “one side of the lip pulled back slightly, the eyes squinting a little… or kind of a tightening around the eyes, and a little bit of raising of the corners of the lips— but not into a smile.”
Think your resting face leans toward the bitchy side? Take the test and find out. And hey, if you do, own it. There’s strength in numbers, bitches.