Say Cheese

I am in one of these inevitable Zoom meetings, and in one of the windows is – well, I hate to write it but if I do, you know immediately what I am talking about: a Resting Bitch Face.

It scares me. Did I say something wrong? What if I had worn something a little more professional? Or had a haircut and put on more makeup?  Does she expect the meeting to turn into a disaster? Does she know something that I don’t know yet but that will be revealed when she speaks up? I wonder what secrets I need to be worried about.

Have you ever been in this kind of meeting?

Has your mind made up a lot of stories?

When it is my turn to say something, I fumble. It is her fault; if she wasn’t so —uaargggh! I could have been more eloquent. I could have made a better impression.STOP!

The described narrative contains two basic errors:

All the stories are my assumptions. I shouldn’t assume I know what is going on in another person. These are stories I tell myself. What goes on for her may have nothing to do with me. Or the meeting agenda. Perhaps she didn’t sleep well? Perhaps her kid is sick? Perhaps she is neither tired nor worried, just concentrated and listening? 
All it takes is me asking: “What is going on for you right now?” 
 She didn’t make me do anything. I took a data point, ran with it, as usual to the worst place possible, and reacted from wherever my story took me.

Although this is my story it is not the part where I use “I” above. I am RBF. The rest is more or less made up as I don’t know what goes on in other people’s heads and don’t want to make too many assumptions.

I do, however, know how an RBF impacts me where I don’t expect to see one – and then I usually let it go because the person can just be wearing their thinking face – like me… But I do know from feedback that I have impacted others by not smiling.

Having grown up in a non-smiling culture, I often look RBFed if I don’t pay attention to my body language.

I know – but I still don’t like to be told – that I am prettier when I smile. We are all prettier when we smile, not just the women. But I have yet to hear a man being told that he should smile more.

In many countries, people are not concerned if I don’t smile because everybody rests their faces as well. There is even a T-shirt picture joke going around on Facebook “this is my resting Dane face – I am not angry”. When we don’t rest our faces, we feel about as authentic as Barbie in Toy Story (if you haven’t seen Toy Story, the scene to watch is here.⤵︎

The easiest remedy is for me to only attend Zoom meetings with people who know me. Then the problem often seems to disappear.

Or I could get a T-shirt.


Charlotte Wittenkamp
Charlotte Wittenkamp
Charlotte Wittenkamp is an organizational psychologist who counsels international transfers, immigrants, and foreign students in overcoming culture shock. Originating from Denmark, where she worked in organizational development primarily in the finance industry, Charlotte has lived in California since 1998. Her own experiences relocating lead down a path of research into value systems and communication patterns. She shares this knowledge and experience through speaking and writing and on her website Many of these “learning experiences” along with a context to put them in can be found in her book Building Bridges Across Cultural Differences, Why Don’t I Follow Your Norms?. On the side, she leads a multinational and multigenerational communication training group.

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  1. What an interesting topic, Charlotte! And the video you choose is more than appropriate for this topic. No one can smile all the time, except politicians. 🙂 That’s why I don’t trust them.
    I have a friend whose resting face looks like Angela’s. Since there are more than fifty different kinds of smiles, we often joke that her resting face is, actually, a crooked smile. I’ll suggest she get a T-shirt. :))

    • Thank you, Lada, for confirming that not all smiling is welcome and that it is OK not to smile like Barbie. The people who get Botox in order not to look too frowning are actually less emphatic when their facial muscles can’t all move freely.

  2. This is a delicate topic, Charlotte.

    First impressions count and may be for the wrong assumptions as you said “The rest is more or less made up as I don’t know what goes on in other people’s heads and don’t want to make too many assumptions.”

    Logic says this is right. Saying it is easier than practicing it. Unfortunately, RBF of some people are born with them. They simply look this way. What can they do about it?

    We need to be understanding, but the challenge is practicing it.

    • What comes up for me with this comment, Ali, is how all labels seem to disappear with the people we get to know, regardless if this is ugly or beautiful, RBF or not, race, age, religion, gender…

      The problem arises when we have too little curiosity about “friends we don’t know yet.” (And yes, there are people we should stay clear off, but that nagging feeling typically doesn’t go away even as we get to know them better. And it is typically not caused by anything we would identify by an external label, anyway.)

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