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Gen Y Speaks: I have a resting bitch face. So what?

If I got a dollar every time someone calls me out for my resting bitch face (RBF), I could forget about having to work for the rest of my life.

The author, who has type 2 spinal muscular atrophy, says his closest friends and he often joke about his RBF.

The author, who has type 2 spinal muscular atrophy, says his closest friends and he often joke about his RBF.

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If I got a dollar every time someone calls me out for my resting bitch face (RBF), I could forget about having to work for the rest of my life.

With prominent eyebrows that start high on the outer edge of my face and curve sharply downwards to meet just above the bridge of my nose, and saggy cheekbones that cause the corners of my mouth to droop into a frown, my neutral expression frightens people.

“Why are you so angry?” I have been asked on numerous occasions by people who have not gotten to know me well yet.

Others are not so forgiving. I have been judged as unfriendly, arrogant, and unkind by some who have not even spoken a word to me, on account of a single impression of my face.

But my closest friends and I often joke about my RBF. Some of them have an RBF too.

What exactly is an RBF? The origins of the term are unclear but it has been popularised by Internet memes and social media. It describes the look of people who, at rest, appear to be upset with the whole world. It’s a cross between a grouchy and a pissed-off look.

American plastic surgeon Anthony Youn said in an interview with CNN in 2016 that an RBF is the result of gravity pulling our mouths downwards over time. He added that genetics also play a part — people are more likely to have RBF if their parents have it too.

There is a software called FaceReader that can test for the presence of an RBF. It was developed by scientists from Dutch behavourial research software firm Noldus Information Technology.

According to the FaceReader software, RBF faces display twice the level of contempt compared to non-RBF faces. The researchers say that contempt is expressed on the face mainly through the lips – they tend to be tight and slightly higher on one side than the other.

Our brains can also detect these traces of contempt in RBF faces, the researchers say. All of us have brain circuits located in the fusiform gyrus and the right parietal cortex that analyse the faces of others. It is these areas of the brain that are triggered by the sight of an RBF.

“Because contempt is based upon elements of comparison and judgment, viewing this in someone’s face creates a feeling of uneasiness, or discomfort, for the person viewing that face,” the researchers add.

Because of this, people with an RBF can face problems with interpersonal relationships. Their RBF might deter others from interacting with them, which may lead to them suffering social isolation.

RBF can also have a negative impact at the workplace. For example, a customer service officer may have numerous complaints lodged against her despite her job performance being above average, just because she has an RBF.

Curious to see if I indeed have an RBF, I submitted a good mugshot of myself to FaceReader, which is available on the Test Your RBF website. My results indicated that I really do have an RBF, as shown by the presence of the purple bar in the chart below.

Given that the photo I used for the test is the one I have printed on my student card, I wonder how many times people have been traumatised by me flashing the card at them.

I am not too concerned about any potential effects my RBF may have though. People making snap judgments based on superficial features is a fact of life I have no control of. In addition, I cannot change the face that I was born with. So really, there is not much point in worrying about it.

Instead, I count my blessings for having a small group of friends who can see past my RBF and were willing to get to know the true me.

One of them was initially taken aback by my RBF — a very natural reaction.

She thought I was in a “foul mood”.

But in a WhatsApp conversation shortly afterward, I explained my RBF “issue” and that cleared things up.

After getting to know me better over the two years since we first met, she soon realised that I’m not actually a grumpy person. Indeed, many people – especially online acquaintances who have not seen my face — have commended me for having a great sense of humour.

She now teases me about my RBF instead of being repelled by it. She describes my neutral expression using an emoji.

Once, after discovering that a mutual acquaintance texts me a lot, she asked me: “Is it because she also realised you have an RBF in real life and decided that texting is more convenient?”

Another good friend has an RBF like me. He himself admits it. But that didn’t stop me from making friends with him in the first place. It would be ironic if it did. We the RBF afflicted should stick together.

He also has many friends who often tease him about his RBF. That seems to be a common theme. Apparently, an RBF is funny once you get over the initial fear.

You, too, can join the exclusive circle of friends of an RBF person and get the privilege of poking fun at them. All you have to do is give them a chance.

There were a few people who could see past the RBF and were willing to get to know the true me. I am thankful for and satisfied with this small group of friends.

You, too, can join the exclusive circle of friends of an RBF person. All you have to do is give them a chance.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jonathan Tiong is a third-year student at the National University of Singapore where he is majoring in Communications and New Media.

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