June 27, 2013 at 11:01 AM ET
The concept of “bitchy resting face” may have started off as a joke, but ever since the fake PSA went live – garnering more than 2 million hits on the comedy site Funny or Die and YouTube – scores of women have come forward to own up to the “disorder.”
Actress Anna Paquin of True Blood bemoaned her “BRF” during an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live last week, saying that despite being happy and satisfied with her life, her default face makes her look like she “wants to kill people.” Jezebel’s Kristine Gutierrez, on the other hand, celebrated her “chronic bitch face,” proclaiming “it’s not my responsibility to be everyone’s sunshine.”
“I need to print this on business cards so I can hand it out to people who stop me and ask why I’m unhappy or angry or tell me to smile on a daily basis,” one commenter wrote in response to the video.
Written by journalist and comedian Taylor Orci, the short video was created as a parody of commercials for seemingly pseudo medical disorders. But does bitchy resting face – and its male equivalent, “a**hole resting face” -- actually exist?
Absolutely, says Michigan-based plastic surgeon Dr. Anthony Youn.
“Bitchy resting face is a definite phenomenon that plastic surgeons like myself have described, just never with that term,” he says. “Basically many of us have features that we inherit and/or develop with age that can make us look unpleasant, grumpy, or even, yes, bitchy.”
Youn says many plastic surgeons perform what he calls “expression surgeries,” procedures meant to improve resting facial expressions.
“One procedure I perform in the grin lift, used to turn a permanent frown upside down,” he says. “As we age, some of us – myself included – find that the corners of our mouths droop, giving us a grumpy look. This is usually present with a resting face.”
Aside from a downturned mouth, what makes a face look angry or bitchy?
Youn quickly points to the deep vertical lines between eyebrows (often referred to as 11s) as another culprit that can produce an angry or unhappy vibe. Droopy or overly arched eyebrows can also work to create a wrong impression.
He estimates that he performs about 20 “grin lifts” in a year as well as 100 filler procedures to turn up the corners of the mouth. Botox injections to relax those vertical “11s” are much more prevalent. “I probably do 1,500 of those Botox procedures a year,” he says. “We do a lot. We’re very busy with that.”
While age can enhance our grumpy features, Youn says genetics also play a role in a person’s “resting face."
Julianne Barclay, a 47-year-old stay-at-home mom from Vancouver, Wash., readily admits to having a “bitchy resting face” – which she attributes to her Norwegian roots – and says she’s passed it along to her daughter.
“We’ve always joked about our resting faces looking like bitchy faces,” she says. “Sometimes it works in our favor as a natural deterrent to people we’d rather not deal with. But most of the time we laugh, thinking of all the potential friends who got away because we had ‘bitch’ written all over our faces.”
Youn says fillers, Botox and procedures like grin lifts can all help people counteract a bad case of BRF.
But simply training yourself to smile more also works.
Ann-Marie Stillion, a communication strategist and artist from Seattle, says she’s recently made an effort to wear a smile when in public after having her resting face repeatedly misinterpreted by strangers, friends, and colleagues.
“I look mad when I am thinking which has gotten me in a whole lot of trouble,” she says. “So, I smile a lot now, not because I’m so happy but because I know it makes people more comfortable. It’s good for your face, too.”
Stillion says part of her hates having to paste on a grin whenever she leaves the house because of the deeper cultural implications.
“Culturally, women are not allowed to be thoughtful and serious,” she says. “And it’s also a cultural imperative that women are expected to smile and make men happy. It’s like our ‘job’.”
Despite the annoyance of appeasing creepy dudes who expect women to “Smile!” on command, she admits the way we present ourselves to others is crucial.
“I feel like I have a stupid smile,” she says. “But I do employ it now, especially when I’m engaged with new people. If I think they may be intimidated, I slap on a smile and it makes a whole lot of difference. It’s good to be mindful of what you’re projecting to other people. And it’s good to smile, to give other people warmth.”
Just don’t go too far. You might end up with the same condition Anna Paquin says her husband and co-star Stephen Moyer suffers from: “happy resting face."