Dating, Relationships, & Sex, Race & Politics

‘I Stopped Telling Women to Smile (and You Should, Too)’

I never quite understood it when women—relatives, friends, co-workers, etc—complained about men asking them to smile. “You can’t have it both ways,” I’d argue. “You can’t complain about men not approaching you, but also be annoyed with men suggesting that you should try and look more pleasant.” Plus, what the hell is wrong with smiling? I guess it could be slightly annoying to hear a request like that all of the time, but how effed up do you have to be to be consistently mad at someone asking you to smile? It’s not like these dudes are asking for women to tap dance nude, or even for phone numbers. A smile is a simple, natural, positive act, and I was annoyed with them for being annoyed by the request.

This all changed one day when, well, just let me tell the story.

“On the bright side, I still hate my job.”

This last statement served as a culmination for a ten minute long speech/exhale/rant/stream of consciousness delivered to me during lunch with a friend (“Nicki”). She was having the awfullest out of awful weeks, and instead of biting into the ceaser salad sitting in front of her, she used a third of the precious half hour we had to eat to purge. I couldn’t help but laugh at the last statement—a sign that, despite her bad week, her sense of humor was still intact.

Before I continue, I need to give a bit more background about this friend. We initially met each other through my girlfriend at the time (They were line sisters), and we grew to be friends over the span of that relationship, bonding over the same hate for Kobe Bryant. Since we both worked near downtown, we’d occasionally meet for lunch. Also, Nicki is very good-looking. So good-looking that there was never a time when we were together where men didn’t either give me the subtle head nod of impressededness or try to sneak peeks (or slip numbers) when they thought I wasn’t paying attention.

Why does this matter? Well, she got an emergency call during lunch and had to run out. We said our goodbyes, she walked out, and I could see her through the restaurant’s window, waiting for a bus across the street. I didn’t ask what the call was about, but it obviously upset her even more. As she stood there, her face sullen, her body language anxious, it finally dawned on me.

After hearing Nicki tell me the details of her awful week, watching her take a phone call that somehow made things even worse, and seeing her wait for a bus, clearly upset, it angered me knowing there was a good chance some guy would notice this beautiful woman—depressed for various reasons—and politely (but insistently) demand that she put a smile on her face


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Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for and EBONY Magazine. And a founding editor for 1839. And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at Or don't. Whatever.

  • Tes

    Two in one day?! Wonderful.

    As for the actual post, it’s like I said awhile ago, “You want me to smile? Do something worth smiling about.”

    • a boy and his demondog 06

      so if i being a random stranger and all were to come up from behind you at the bus stop and commence to tickling you make you smile?

      • Tes

        Now are we playing “We’re strangers and we don’t know each other” or are you an actual stranger? The former gets a giggle and a lunch date, the latter gets you maced.

      • NotYourFriend

        I would hope you are not walking up behind women who you don’t know and are touching them.

    • GypsyCurl

      Unfortunately the men that need to read this article cannot read…. I mean will not read this.

  • MissRae

    I can’t stand when random guys tell to me smile especially if I am having a bad day. Sometimes I just want to be left alone, so don’t get mad If I tell you to f**k off. Just don’t kill my vibe.

  • GypsyCurl

    This post is a long time coming. There are too many reasons why it is annoying to be accosted on the street for a smile than can be written in this comment box.

  • Maris

    Some idiot tole me to “SMILE!!” once when my father died. I almost got arrested.

    I’m waiting for the right man to tell the wrong woman to smile and hear about it in the news. Just say “hey, pretty” if you can’t make your brain work enough to say something smart when a woman passes you by. She doesn’t owe “you” a damn thing, smile or otherwise.

    Sidenote: “Hey, pretty! What, you don’t talk?” I equally chalkboard-scratchingly annoying.

    • MissRae

      “I’m waiting for the right man to tell the wrong woman to smile and hear about it in the news.”

      Lol, yeah like the part where the girl from the movie I’m gonna get you sucka that got cramps.

  • OSHH

    Bingo, on dehumanizing , that is exactly why it angers and the very least annoys the heck out of most women including myself. I be like if you only knew

  • H.H.H.

    another reason i shouldn’t say anything to strangers of the opposite sex.
    Order shall be complied with. *salute*

    • H.H.H.

      One question from the audience.

      if a member of the opposite gender is giving the screwface, can i return a screwface in kind as a ‘hello’?

      or nah?

      • Ms. Bridget

        You could just accept that they don’t feel like being bothered and go about your day…

        • miss t-lee


        • H.H.H.

          so, no screwface then. understood ma’am. *writes dilligently in notebook*

          i’ll practice my ‘don’t worry i won’t even look your way blank stare’ to go with this newfound information.

          many thanks!

      • esa

        ha ha ha ha. i like this. i would find it charming. #weirdohh

    • Royale W. Cheese

      If you ever see me, smiling or not, you can say hi. The worst I’ll do is just give the polite nod and clam up, if it really is that bad. Otherwise, I love striking up convos with strangers. I don’t like stewing infinitely in anger. Everyone else, ignore them. They’ll just snap at you.

      • H.H.H.

        are you sure?

        you seem like the type that will blog/tumblr/ sue me over this….

        like…every…one…else…. *looks around blankly*

        i think i’ll keep my head in my nonfiction novel on Linco…i mean my colouring book.

        • Royale W. Cheese

          Trust me. I observe me every day.

  • deucebravado

    Yeah, and it’s even worse when women do it.

    • Maris

      Honestly, I do it to be facetious.

  • miss t-lee

    Love it.
    Glad the light bulb finally came on for you, Champie. :)

  • chameleonic

    [*ceases the overdramatic wall slide i was performing prior to reading this*]

    once i was at a gas station obviously in my thoughts; the guy behind me told me in his sweet gentle voice ‘aww, it cant be that. smile.’ it *was* that bad and it made me feel worse he noticed. yet good because he noticed. i couldnt even look at him because i was getting that ‘hold it together, oh no the tears are coming’ feeling…but i really wanted him to do something about it.

    i completely agree. do something. it *is* that bad. i *am* this melancholy and no. i sincerely have nothing to smile over. but now i do!

    [*pulls a lifesize teddy bear out of thin air, sprays it with cologne, and hugs it like i mean it*]

    • esa

      youu are theater ~*~ i hope you write or act or sing. something with a stage or a page. this was great. thanks ~*~

      • chameleonic

        i used to dance ballet and play violin and i always wanted to have opera vocal coaching…..and then become a burlesque performer. but thats just not allowed round these parts.

  • Royale W. Cheese

    Maybe I’m weird, but being told to smile has no significantly negative affect on me. I feel the same about “hey why don’t you smile” as I do about “lovely weather today, wouldn’t you say?”

    It’s like the poor rose salesman who walks up to couple about to break up because the guy just confessed he’s sleeping with her sister, and the rose salesman says “hey you two love birds, how about some flowers to top off your romantic evening!”

    “Why don’t you smile?” is just an awkward start to a convo with an attractive stranger. If I am having a bad day, the guy can’t tell. Can’t get mad at him for being oblivious. The most negative reaction I give is the blank stare, as if to say “I appreciate the effort, but let’s just pretend this convo opener never happened. Thanks.”

    Objectification? Well, trying to get men to be less objectifying towards pretty women is like trying to scrape the black off of a crow, and often times it is harmless, so I’m very rarely inspired to discuss that.

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